There was understandable excitement when Orlando City announced the signing of the club’s newest Designated Player, Yoshimar “Yoshi” Yotún. Not only was it an injection of international quality — Yotún has 64 caps for the Peruvian national team — but there’s the potential to fix a few problems that have been plaguing Orlando’s midfield. The Lions’ struggles are well documented since the start of May, going 2-8-6 in MLS and only scoring 15 goals through those 16 matches.
The lineup has largely remained unchanged, with Kaká, Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, and Antonio Nocerino making up the midfield. While the defense has held on as best it could, Orlando has been struggling to retain possession and giving up the ball in dangerous areas. Kaká has struggled to make a consistent impact, whether it’s wide left or at the top of the diamond, and the remaining trio has been ineffective going forward, especially with the ball at their feet.
The resulting tactic has been long balls up to Cyle Larin and hoping the can hold on long enough for the reinforcements to come. It worked against Atlanta United, with Kaká making something out of almost nothing, and again against the Montreal Impact when Scott Sutter’s long pass managed to sneak behind the defense to Larin. Other than those instances, Orlando has failed to consistently create chances and it’s showing in the results on the field.
With the revamped defense and the new acquisition of Dom Dwyer, the midfield has become the weakest third of the field for City. Yoshi, for all of his accolades up until his Orlando move, will have a lot of pressure to become a key piece on both ends of the pitch. Depending on who hits the bench to make way for the Peruvian, he’ll be asked to make the same defensive contributions as Higuita or Nocerino, as well as spark the offense. Kaká has become noticeably frustrated on the pitch with the lack of offensive support as the attack has bottlenecked trying to go through the Brazilian alone. Dwyer has done an admirable job dropping deep to provide some assistance but Kaká will need midfield help if the offense is going to flow freely and right the ship.
Yotún’s history as a player willing to go box-to-box — either as an attacking fullback, a wide midfielder, or in central midfield — alleviates some of the Lions’ issues on paper. He has a solid track record of assists (18 in 79 appearances for Malmo FF), but Yoshi played exclusively from wide areas in Sweden. Those numbers with Peru are lower (seven assists in 64 games) but even that’s a step above Higuita’s offensive production in that same advanced role. Yotún will help keep possession going forward and should be able to link up with Kaká and Dwyer better than anyone on the roster currently.
But Yoshi is not a true attacking midfielder. As Orlando General Manager Niki Budalic told MLSSoccer.com, “he’s not a Number 10 and we wouldn’t play him in that role.” He can’t be expected to have the same skill and offensive flair as the departed Kevin Molino, and the Peruvian shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the same load. While his arrival should help take some of the pressure off Kaká, it’s to be determined whether it will be enough to really create a spark. If Yoshi plays the same left midfielder role he has taken up with Malmo, it displaces Kaká. How Orlando’s newest DP creates from that left-center position will be key.
There’s plenty of potential for Yoshi to be that missing link between the Lions’ defense and attack. But there’s still going to be a transitional phase as Yotun, Kaká, Larin, and Dwyer get used to how the others operate in the attacking third. On paper, the Peruvian DP fixes a couple of major problems for Orlando’s diamond midfield. If that can turn into production, it’s not too late for Orlando to snap out of this skid.