Orlando City found its first reinforcements on Monday when the club signed Stefano Pinho, re-signed Dillon Powers, and traded for RJ Allen. The trio will go a long way toward bolstering the Lions’ depth for the 2018 season. Powers is a known quantity after spending a few months with City at the end of the season and Allen will be necessary fullback depth to help spell Scott Sutter. But the most interesting piece is Stefano Pinho, the first step toward Orlando fixing an attack that scored just 39 goals in 34 matches.
Pinho has quite the list of accolades in the past three years. The two-time NASL Golden Boot and Golden Ball (NASL’s MVP) winner has had an up-and-down three-year career in the U.S., but when he’s been on his game, he’s one of the best lower-division forwards in America.
Pinho lit up the NASL in 2015 and 2017 with 38 goals and 15 assists across both seasons in all competitions. His 2016 year spent with Minnesota United is both the outlier and the most interesting for Orlando City; he scored just five goals for the Loons and spent the year in the shadow of Christian Ramirez. Their partnership failed to materialize and he only contributed one assist. In 2017, he moved on to Miami FC and found his form again and in the process knocked Orlando out of the U.S. Open Cup. His hat trick sunk City’s cup run as soon as it started and gave the Lions a taste of what he’s capable of:
But which version of Pinho is Orlando City getting? Will he be able to provide an offensive spark the Lions sorely lacked in 2017, or will he struggle to connect with the other strikers in the stable?
Pinho is not the biggest striker, nor is he the quickest. He’s a few inches shorter than Cyle Larin, standing at an even 6-foot. He can beat a center back in a foot race, but he won’t burn by defenders like Carlos Rivas. He doesn’t do anything flashy, and he isn’t head and shoulders above the competition in any technical or athletic category. So how did this Brazilian forward who couldn’t break through at Fluminense become one of the deadliest strikers in second-division American soccer?
He hasn’t done it by himself. He’s not the type of striker to carry the ball from midfield, beat a defender or two with the ball at his feet, and score. He lurks in the six-yard box, finding pockets of space and making the most of his touches. He makes the intelligent runs at the perfect time to beat back lines and if defenders lose sight of him, he can sneak into dangerous areas and punish the opposition. He’s calm in front of goal and can pick out his spot to beat opposing keepers under pressure with either foot.
But he requires service and needs the team around him to create that space for him. With an overlapping skill set with Dom Dwyer — similar to his relationship with Larin — it’s difficult to see the two coexisting in a tandem. Both have had the most success leading lines rather than playing in behind. That doesn’t mean that Pinho will be as comparatively ineffective as he was with Ramirez — he played well with a partner in Miami — but there is a definite hole on the roster for a more complete striker to play underneath either Dwyer or Pinho. The Brazilian can create for others, but it’s not his strength. He’s not a direct replacement for Larin, but he doesn’t have to be.
Pinho is a prototypical poacher that needs chances created for him, which is something that Orlando City struggled with for most of 2017. The addition of Yoshimar Yotun helped down the home stretch, but who Orlando brings in to play secondary striker and in the No. 10 role will go a long way toward determining Pinho’s success. Getting the most out of him requires putting the right pieces around him to succeed.
The talent is there, and the potential is there for an uptick in goals off the bench next year, but there’s still a lot of improvement to be made. Pinho matching the combined scoring output of Rivas and Giles Barnes (eight goals) is not unfathomable. Where they lacked the killer instinct and calmness, Pinho has both in spades. He’s done half as much against MLS competition in the Open Cup, scoring against both Orlando and Atlanta United. Doing it on a consistent basis is the next step, and doing it in limited minutes will be a challenge for the Brazilian forward.
If Orlando can find creators to put around him, Pinho could propel the Lions’ attack to another level.