There is no doubt that 2018 was a difficult year for Orlando City. The team broke the MLS record for most goals allowed in a season and picked up just eight wins for the year. Still, there were some bright spots.
The Lions were not the worst team in the league — that would be San Jose with a final record of 4-21-9. There were also a number of players and individual moments that showed promise for next season and beyond. The team found a new manager in James O’Connor, and his project will be at revamping the squad for 2019.
Before getting into 2019, let’s take a look at some of the bright spots of 2018.
Most Valuable Player: Yoshimar Yotun
There is no question that Yotún was the clear MVP on the team and, frankly, no one is close to his ability. He led the team in assists with 10, and found the back of the net four times. To see his full effect, you might have to watch the Peruvian play, though. Yoshi’s vision and technical ability are miles above the rest of the team, and without the 28-year-old, Orlando would have had a few more losses on the season.
Golden Boot: Dom Dwyer
The Golden Boot race was like Usain Bolt in the Olympics. Not only was Dwyer going to be the winner from the moment the season started, but nobody else even came close to catching him. The striker finished with 13 on the year, four more than his 2017 total. Sacha Kljestan had the second-highest total, with just six.
Rookie of the Year: Chris Mueller
Mueller wins by default as he was the only rookie to see significant playing time in 2018, with Cam Lindley far behind with only three appearances. The Wisconsin graduate showed promising signs, but needs to improve a lot more to be effective next season. He has the heart and work ethic but lost the ball too often and has difficulty getting off shots. He finished with just 32 shots in 32 games, three goals — which were in back-to-back games in April — and seven assists.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Adam Grinwis
2018 was a tough year for Orlando City goalkeepers. Joe Bendik looked out of sorts from the start and was eventually benched for Earl Edwards Jr. Edwards looked excellent in his first few appearances, making all the necessary saves, and providing distributions that could not have been any better. But after awhile, Edwards’ game started to falter and the 26-year-old only played in five MLS games, plus three more in the U.S. Open Cup.
Grinwis never looked out of sorts and certainly did not look like a third-string goalkeeper. He recorded a shutout in his first ever MLS game, and finished the season with a goals-against average of 1.2 — more than a goal lower than Edwards and Bendik in MLS play.
Defender of the Year: Lamine Sané
This was tough, but ultimately it came down to numbers. Sané missed a good deal of time, but when he was in he was a solid center back and was a great addition to the team. He played in just 16 games but led the team in average interceptions per game (2.9), clearances per game (4.4), and was third in blocks per game (0.6). His 88.1% passing accuracy was second best on the team and showed his ability to play the ball with his feet — a vital skill for defenders in a three-back system. Sané was also composed in the back and committed just 10 fouls all season — 0.6 per game.
Newcomer of the Year: Carlos Ascues
This award is given to the player that came to Orlando City since the conclusion of the 2017 season. The team was in rebuild mode last off-season and so many players were eligible for this award.
Ascues played in just nine games this season after the Peruvian international was signed in August. He was brought over on loan with an option for 2019 and the Lions will most certainly keep him in their plans next season. While he did not score a goal or provide any assists, he played almost exclusively in defensive roles in the midfield or back line. The real treat is watching Ascues play.
He appears to be on the same wavelength as Yoshi. Ascues rarely turned the ball over, finishing with an 87% passing rating and had five key passes. He finished with 17 tackles, 19 interceptions, 26 clearances, and 13 blocks — the Peruvian is in the top seven on Orlando among averages per game in each of those categories.
Goal of the Year: Scott Sutter vs. Philadelphia Union
Who would have thought in the beginning of the year that the right back would power home a goal at the death to steal a point for the Lions? Don’t even think about commenting that you did, because the situation seems most unlikely. In a season that went so poorly, Sutter’s 91st-minute equalizer won’t be forgotten soon.
But the goal wins the Orlando City Goal of the Year for more than just the dramatics. First, look at pass from Yoshi in the video below. The Peruvian crossed the ball about 40 yards and landed it perfectly in stride for Josué Colmán. Instead of being selfish when he got the ball, Colmán used some fancy footwork to create space and Sutter drifted in behind. The Young Designated Player back-heeled a pass to Sutter, and the Swiss defender hit a first-time shot to the back post. It was a terrific goal all around that the Lions made look easy, in a year where they struggled to find the back of the net.