Orlando City has undergone some radical changes this off-season, losing 14 players from the 2017 roster and adding nine new faces between the middle of December and the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 18. The midfield has gotten younger, more creative, and better on the ball from top to bottom. There is more reliable depth at fullback — though still some lingering questions at center back — and some injections of talent on both ends of the pitch. But there are some major question marks up front that could make or break the Lions’ season.
Only two teams scored fewer goals than City in 2017 as Orlando’s offense produced a lowly 39 goals and a disappointing -19 goal differential. On top of that, the club’s record goal scorer, Cyle Larin, has been in Turkey in an effort to help force a transfer away from Major League Soccer. The Lions also saw three of their other top five scorers — Kaká, Carlos Rivas, and Giles Barnes — leave the club this winter. All told, Orlando will only return five players that scored last year and those five combined for only nine goals in total.
The acquisition of Dom Dwyer in the summer should go a long way toward replacing those goals. Dwyer should be able at the very least to replicate Larin’s production up top and with plenty of creators around him, he will have plenty of opportunities to score. His new three-year contract brings stability but also means that he will be asked to shoulder the load. When the rest of the attack is struggling to click, Dwyer needs to be the one to get it going again.
The other new faces are talented, but there is a concerning lack of proven goal scoring from the roster outside of Dom. The club seems to be relying on the new faces to add those goals, but there are plenty of question marks about how realistic that ask is.
Sacha Kljestan, one of the club’s big splashes this winter, has led the league in assists in each of the past two seasons, but his goal total has steadily been declining and the 32-year-old only scored twice in 2017. Josué Colmán, the Lions’ other high-profile signing, has just four goals in his short professional career. While Head Coach Jason Kreis has mentioned adding goals to Colmán’s game, it could be a big ask of the Paraguayan to go from primarily a creator to key scorer.
Some of the new additions do have a history of scoring, but there’s the omnipresent threat of not translating to the next level.
Stefano Pinho is the likeliest to contribute after Dwyer given his two Golden Boots in three seasons in the NASL, but whether or not the Brazilian will be able to score on stiffer competition is still up for debate. He did bag four goals in last year’s U.S. Open Cup with a hat trick in Orlando City Stadium and another against Atlanta United, but doing it consistently is a different task all together.
“I can help score goals,” Pinho told the media on Tuesday. “I look to help the team and give everything I have. Just play my game and score some goals and win games.”
The biggest question mark surrounding the other new attackers is youth. Cam Lindley and Chris Mueller both chipped in a handful of goals in their senior seasons — seven and nine, respectively — but the transition from the college ranks to MLS is notoriously difficult. Mueller primarily played as a forward at Wisconsin and mentioned that’s where he would prefer to play at this level, but his position flexibility could be key to making an impact. If he can provide goals from midfield or the wings, he could earn playing time quickly.
Pierre Da Silva skipped college for an OCB contract, but without the USL side this year he’ll have to break into the first team rotation to see some playing time in 2018. Da Silva contributed from midfield with five goals over the last two seasons, but just like Kljestan, Colmán, Lindley, and Mueller, he has predominantly set up teammates rather than finish chances for himself. To make things more complex, given the competition for places in midfield and potentially at forward, there’s no guarantee the youngsters will even see too much of the field.
Unlike the other trio of young players, Jose Villarreal has been scoring in MLS. The only trouble is that he wasn’t given much playing time with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The 24-year-old has recorded five goals in 2,354 minutes with the Galaxy’s first team, which is great for a single season. It’s less ideal for six years in the pros. Orlando City will give Villarreal a fresh start and hopefully a better opportunity to showcase what he can do. The Lions are banking on the American to realize some of his potential and become the type of attacker that he was billed to become when he originally signed with his hometown club.
There is still plenty of time to work out the kinks before the season opener against D.C. United on March 3. The next six weeks will go a long way toward determining formation and getting the creators and goal scorers on the same page. The youngsters will get an opportunity to make their mark. But someone will have to step up if Orlando’s offense is to improve from the dismal state it was in last season.