In one of the stranger transactions you’ll see this season, Orlando City has acquired defender Léo Pereira on a season-long loan from Orlando City B. It’s not often an MLS team gets a loan from its USL reserve team, especially when it’s a player that was on loan to the reserve side in the first place. Pereira was originally loaned to OCB from Clube Atlético Paranaense, Orlando City's partner club in Brazil, back on March 14. Pereira, 21, occupies an international roster spot, which was opened yesterday when the club waived midfielder Danny Deakin.
“We were very impressed with what we saw from Léo when we scouted him in Brazil and what he’s shown us in his time in Orlando,” GM Niki Budalic said in a club press release. “Léo is a promising defender with good size and a high soccer IQ. We’re excited to have him move up to the MLS roster. This is a great example of the things we can accomplish through our partnership with Atlético Paranaense.”
Pereira is the fourth player to graduate from OCB to the senior squad, joining Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha during the 2016 season, and Pierre Da Silva this past off-season. He was also the first player moved between Orlando City and Paranaense since the formal partnership was announced in November 2016.
The 6-foot-1 (I swear he looks taller than his listed height) Pereira played in three games with OCB this season, making his debut at left back on March 30 against Louisville City FC. Pereira played his more natural position of center back in OCB’s two home games since his first USL appearance, a win over Toronto FC II, and a draw against the Charlotte Independence. Pereira played well in both games at center back.
Pereira made eight appearances on loan at Guaratinguetá in 2015 during the Brazilian Serie C season. Last year, the 21-year-old Pereira played most of the 2016 Brazilian Serie B season on loan with Clube Náutico Capibaribe.
After coming through the Paranaense academy, which he joined in 2010, the Curitiba native has made 32 appearances with 23 starts for his hometown club since 2013. He also made appearances for the Brazilian youth national teams, scoring one goal in five starts during the 2015 U-20 South American Championship. Later that year, he scored one goal during three appearances during the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
What it Means for Orlando City
That international slot vacated by Deakin had many fans dreaming of a surprise striker signing or even the return of attacking midfielder Adrian Winter – both welcome moves – but it was obviously a move to set up the Pereira loan.
The Lions needed another center back with both Jose Aja and Seb Hines out with injury. Servando Carrasco may have been the emergency center back but Antonio Nocerino’s injury thins the depth at defensive midfielder. Conor Donovan was obviously available for recall from loan but has not looked ready to step back into MLS and has been behind Pereira and Zach Carroll the last two games. Pereira was the simplest solution and in fact had been playing at a fairly high level for OCB the last couple of games. He was good in the air and with positioning, and has skill with the ball at his feet on a level that you don’t often see in MLS center backs, let alone those in the USL.
I asked OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis about Pereira’s performance after the Toronto FC II match last week, and he said, “Léo Pereira was excellent […] he played left back last week against Louisville, which is probably not his best position. He can play there but I think he showed everybody tonight that he’s got a lot of potential.”
Why You Should/Shouldn’t Like the Move
Pereira is a big, young defender with a lot of upside and a ton of skill. He’s still a bit raw, but he’s a player who can grow into a long-term role with Orlando City and potentially partner with Redding for years to come. For now, he provides low-cost emergency depth at center back while Aja and Hines are on the mend. His promotion strengthens the pipeline between the club’s USL and MLS side and adds more credibility to OCB as a side that gets guys promoted, which will only help Pulis’ team’s cause when looking for young talent to sign. To a lesser degree, it also helps by strengthening Orlando City’s relationship with Clube Atlético Paranaense.
Orlando City could have used that international slot to bring in more attacking depth or a veteran to provide cover for Spector and Redding. Pereira is unlikely to help the senior side much at his age and experience level in 2017, except to provide a body to send out onto the field when all of the other bodies are unavailable. When everyone is healthy, he won’t see the field.
I see this as a win for the kid, an inexpensive way to provide emergency cover during the current center back situation, and a feather in the cap of OCB, Anthony Pulis, and the club in its partnership with Paranaense.