Orlando City SC added some interesting players to its roster moving towards the 2017 Major League Soccer season, but the Lions might also get important help from a very familiar face. Starting his second season with the club, Italian midfielder Antonio Nocerino is expected to take a step forward and turn into a valuable asset for Head Coach Jason Kreis.
The 31-year-old midfielder had a weak start in his first months with the Lions after joining the club in February 2016, but displayed some glimpses of talent as the season went on. As the team works in preseason, Nocerino seems more settled and committed to the club, which hopefully will lead to more productivity on the field.
“I stayed in Orlando and worked every day for the new season. This season is very important for each of us and we are working harder to have a good season”, he said about his off-season in an interview with OCSC staff last week.
With a remarkable resume and looking motivated as never before in Orlando, Nocerino can be useful to the Lions while performing at least three roles:
Leading the Team
The Italian is a seasoned player, with 13 years of experience in Europe, mostly in his home country, but also with a short stint in England. He played for the Italian national team as well and was part of his country’s roster during the 2012 European Championship. Going straight to the point, Kaká is the only player on the Lions roster that matches his career trajectory.
Nocerino is mostly used as a midfielder and his central position on the field is extremely favorable for a leader, as he is reasonably close to every other player on the team. As we discussed earlier this week, Kaká needs other voices helping him to lead the team on the field and, even though he seems to reject this role, the Italian could definitely be someone to step up on that.
“I don’t know if I’m a leader, people say that because I’m old and have experience. I prefer not saying if I’m a leader or not, but actually helping my team and then if people want to say I’m a leader, it’s ok”.
With his Passing Ability
During the last couple of years, Orlando City had Kevin Molino, a quick midfielder who was able to create goal chances from the wings. With the Trinidadian’s departure and Brek Shea struggling to be effective and getting limited playing time, the Lions are expected to replace speed with ball possession in 2017.
As a center midfielder, Nocerino is expected to play a big role on this matter alongside Kaká, Matias Perez Garcia, and Will Johnson, other talented passers who are expected have the ball a lot on their feet. Holding a respectable 81.4% passing accuracy rate, the Italian could easily become an important player to the team if he does a good job on dictating the tempo.
He showed some glimpses of it last year, spreading the ball in an intelligent and efficient manner. Nocerino will not record remarkable goals or assists numbers, but the Italian could play a key role for Orlando if he makes the most of his passing skills.
Relieving the Pressure on his Teammates
Maybe it was the rough start, perhaps the issue with a fan, or possibly even the limited English skills, but the truth is Nocerino was not comfortable in Orlando City in 2016. The Italian clearly didn’t connect well with the club or the players until the end of the season, when his playing time increased.
Orlando City is expected to be under high pressure in 2017 as the team failed to make the playoffs in its two first MLS seasons and will inaugurate its brand new downtown stadium. Such pressure could impact the younger players of the roster and the veterans have an important role in preventing that.
One recent example that showed Nocerino’s engagement with his teammates was a video that went viral during preseason that showed the Italian singing out loud with other players while he drove them to practice. Things like that make the routine lighter and are important in making the young players more comfortable.
“When we are working on the field, that’s that we are doing, but after it, I like to play with the guys. If you want to have a great season, you need to work hard on the field and have a good time in the other moments because it’s important to smile when you are not working”.