Orlando City has already been active in the early days of the off-season, trading away defenders left and right. Victor “PC” Giro and Amro Tarek were sent away for late draft picks — the 59th overall selection from the Vancouver Whitecaps and the 94th overall pick from the New York Red Bulls, respectively. They followed Scott Sutter, Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia, and Chris Schuler out the door after City released them last month as part of what seems to be a total defensive rebuild.
The Lions might have received a future cornerstone of the new-look defense when they acquired 20-year-old Portuguese defender Joao Moutinho from LAFC in a swap for yet another defensive player, Mohamed El-Munir. Moutinho joins Lamine Sane, Shane O’Neill, RJ Allen, and Carlos Ascues (who also plays defensive midfield) as the current defenders for Orlando.
Joao was lauded by many last winter as the Sporting Portugal academy graduate made waves with the University of Akron en route to the top selection in the 2018 SuperDraft. His short time in Southern California saw him win the starting left back job over veteran Jordan Harvey but slowly phase out of Bob Bradley’s lineups as the year progressed. As a rookie — and a particularly young one at that — it was expected that he would struggle to adapt to the professional level and the 10 starts that Bradley handed him were great experience.
Moutinho’s move to the opposite end of the country potentially offers more playing time as Head Coach James O’Connor builds his new back line. The Portuguese defender offers a unique skill set and the Orlando City gaffer has plenty of options in how to deploy the youngster. Joao became the top pick in the draft because of his exceptional tactical knowledge and technical skill on the ball. Considered the best pure soccer player available in the talent pool, it’s easy to see why he went with the top overall pick:
Most of the knocks against the Portugal youth international came because his position wasn’t clearly defined. He doesn’t have the athleticism of a traditional attacking fullback or wingback and he doesn’t have the size and strength of a typical central defender. His experience at Akron primarily came at left back or in central midfield, but it was tough to project where he’d land in MLS. Bradley decided it would be fullback from the outset, but perhaps that will change under O’Connor.
With all three of Orlando’s left backs from 2018 having departed the club, it’s likely that Moutinho could see most of his minutes in purple out wide. But if O’Connor decides to employ his favored 3-4-3, does Moutinho have the physical tools to excel as a wingback? Strength will come with more time at the professional level, but you can’t teach speed. While his skill on the ball is excellent, can he provide enough on the offensive end to do what O’Connor and the team need done? Should O’Connor roll out four defenders instead, Moutinho’s abilities may be better served.
It’s unlikely but possible that Joao slots into the midfield, similar to how he was deployed at Akron. The Lions have a plethora of central midfielders and fellow highly touted youngster Cam Lindley is already struggling to see the field. While Moutinho could fill in from time to time as a stand in with a skill set similar to Uri Rosell’s, he’s likely best used as a central defender in O’Connor’s 3-4-3.
While Mountinho may be on the smaller side for a center back, standing at just 6-foot tall, he brings a lot to the table that Orlando lost with Tarek’s departure. Moutinho may not dominate aerially, but his passing range and ability to dribble are crucial in a formation that sacrifices a midfielder for another defender. His tactical knowledge is another boon that could make him a staple in the heart of an MLS back line. With so much growing left to do, the path that Orlando City sets him on is important.
However O’Connor plans to use Moutinho, it’s safe to say Orlando received quality versatility and a building block for the future.