A year ago, The Mane Land questioned whether or not Antonio Nocerino was on his last chance with Orlando City SC. A year later, it’s almost surprising he’s still on the team. How has his play changed since that piece a summer ago?
Last season, pre-Jason Kreis, some of the points being made about Nocerino included laziness from a defensive position, not being in match condition, and possibly a look of not wanting to be where he was in Orlando City. A year later now, and some things have changed while others have stayed the same.
One thing is for sure when it comes to Nocerino: he is very comfortable. His comfort has improved greatly over the course of his time in Orlando — a comfort that started with being best buds with Kaká, learning English, being in a familiar system, and bonding with his Lions teammates. But even with the added level of comfort and adaptation to Kreis’ system, the numbers on the field still do not favor Nocerino.
His side-by-side stats from this season and last are almost identical at this point in the season. So far this season, Nocerino has only made two fewer appearances and played right around 200 fewer minutes than in his 2016 MLS debut season, but the numbers are still nothing to be excited about. The first stat that sticks out is that he has earned more red cards (2) than goals and assists combined. The man has still not scored a goal or earned an assist in MLS, and we’re talking about a midfielder, albeit a defensive one.
To be fair to the man though, he has never been an outstanding goal scorer, with his best season coming in 2011/12 when he netted 10 goals for AC Milan. He has also never been a great set-up player when it comes to earning assists or key passes. So should he be judged for his offensive woes? Not entirely, however, to not have a single assist or goal in 38 games played with 36 games started and accumulating over 2,800 minutes of on-field time has to be disappointing to a certain degree for Nocerino.
His strong suit is obvious, he is a midfielder who holds the job of recovering the ball once the offense loses it. He moves between 18-yard box to 18-yard box, directing traffic, connecting the back line to the attack, and disrupting the opposing offense’s build-up play. These are the characteristics that define Nocerino.
This season, the Italian has earned 27 successful tackles, earned 25 interceptions, has blocked two shots, and blocked 12 passes. Compared to the entire 2016 season: 35 tackles won, 29 interceptions, two blocked shots, and lastly blocked 12 passes, all according to WhoScored.com.
Nocerino is on par statistically with his 2016 season, one that was met with some scrutiny from fans, but it is important to remember that Nocerino is not a stat guy. He will not fill the stat sheet on any given night as he brings something even more valuable, leadership. From just about the first game after Kreis took over, Nocerino has looked like a different player — with a noticeable increase in work rate, far fewer devastating turnovers in his own end, and visibly coaching up younger players on the pitch.
His leadership is what has led to his Orlando City redemption. Even though the man himself won't say it, Nocerino has become a leader, a “leader by example.”
Timing was key for Nocerino and so was familiarity. This season, Nocerino has been able to step up because of his relationship with Kaká and his ability to easily adapt the system Kreis has instituted. Along the way, he has become part of the heart of the Lions and one of the fan favorites every night he steps on the pitch. His heart and commitment on both sides of the ball has also been one of the driving forces to his redemption. Fans have taken notice, and they love it.
Right now, the Lions are struggling to stay in the playoff race as they just dropped major points at home to Atlanta United despite an all-around good performance from the team.
If the Lions are to maintain their hunt for a playoff berth, Nocerino’s leadership will have to push them to on-field success. Sure, a large part needs to be done on the offensive end, but even if Nocerino does not contribute to goals or assists, his sheer will and determination, along with his defensive attributes, should be enough motivation for those teammates that surround him.
What do you think of Nocerino and his role with the Lions? Let us know in the comments below.