When any MLS team prepares to face the San Jose Earthquakes, who happen to be Orlando City SC’s next opponents, its main concern is pretty obvious: finding a way to stop Chris Wondolowski. However, in 2017 the veteran forward found an unexpected sidekick in center back Florian Jungwirth.
Signed in February from Bundesliga side Darmstadt, the 28-year-old German had been a solid piece of the Earthquakes and is the only field player to play in each of the club’s 990 MLS season minutes so far.
Jungwirth has been a staple in the Quakes’ defensive system, helping the Californians to record three clean sheets over the last five matches, besides leading the team in interceptions (3.2) and ranking second in tackles (3.1) and clearances (4.5), according to WhoScored.com.
However, his offensive contributions are what actually turned some heads around MLS over the last few weeks as the center back amassed two goals and two assists in his first 11 games with the Earthquakes. His most notable offensive performance so far happened last weekend, when he assisted Wondo twice against the Portland Timbers. Here is his passing chart from that match:
“It’s such a luxury to have,” Wondolowski said after the match. “Flo has done so well and is so smart reading the game and such a great center back, but also a wonderful passer of the ball. Both assists were just great balls and his passes kind of passed me open.”
Most used to playing as a center midfielder during his time in Europe, Jungwirth has a natural instinct to push forward and San Jose Head Coach Dominic Kinnear is trying to make the most of it by giving green lights to the German to use his offensive skill set.
It also helps that the Quakes play with three very mobile forwards — Wondo, Marco Ureña and Danny Hoesen — and their smart movement leaves spaces in the opposition’s defense, as happened on Wondolowski’s second goal against the Timbers.
“The thing we want from Florian if he does have time to with the ball is to continue to drift into space because we think he’s a good soccer player”, Kinnear commented. “We always say, after watching him, he does all the basics very well. So if he can add a pass like that to his game, and that helps us out, then that’s a big bonus.”
Orlando City will have forwards Cyle Larin and Giles Barnes (or Carlos Rivas) playing an important role in closing the passing lanes and keeping Jungwirth busy in his own half to deny him the space he needs for his forward runs, eliminating one of the Quakes’ most lethal weapons over the last few games.