I recently wrote a story about Orlando City SC’s biggest off-season priorities. Among those priorities were locating a goalkeeper, a right back, more attacking midfield help, and a striker. I didn’t know the club was about to shed defenders in rapid-fire fashion, but suddenly the broken offense and a lack of help for Dom Dwyer doesn’t look like the biggest issue anymore.
Suddenly the Lions are in dire need of back line help across the board. In a short span of time, Orlando City sent away left backs PC and Mohamed El-Munir and center back Amro Tarek. The fullbacks went to Vancouver and LAFC, respectively, and Tarek went to New York to play for the Red Bulls.
The club was able to get Joao Moutinho back for El-Munir, so that deal was a wash in terms of losing a defender only to gain another. However, El-Munir is a much more experienced defender and the Portuguese 20-year-old still has some maturing to do on the pitch.
Orlando City is left with Moutinho, RJ Allen, Shane O’Neill, and Lamine Sané as the only defenders on the roster, along with Carlos Ascues who can also play on the back line. There is no depth after declining the contract options of Scott Sutter, Jonathan Spector, Chris Schuler, and Donny Toia. Even Tony Rocha — a fill-in at both center back and fullback — wasn’t retained.
While it’s not surprising to jettison several players on the most leaky defense in MLS history, the mitigating factor of 26 different back line combinations no doubt had a lot to do with that.
The Lions will move on to new faces now because they must. But it does appear that a three-man back line is going to be the way forward for James O’Connor’s side. The opening day defense — as it stands now — would likely be Moutinho or Ascues, Sané, and O’Neill. Allen or Will Johnson could play a right wingback and perhaps Yoshimar Yotún could fill that role on the left. And it’s possible that there will be starters in some of those five positions who are not currently on the roster, because OCSC needs to do some shopping.
Defense is suddenly a much bigger area of need. Where once it just seemed adding a depth player at center back and a replacement for Sutter were needed, now there are holes to fill across the board. Additionally, it will be a young defense aside from Sané. O’Connor doesn’t currently appear to have the necessary quality to play a four-man back line if he wants to do that.
It will be the job of scouting director Ricardo Moreira to find quality players and future general manager Luiz Muzzi will need to get them to sign and to fit under the cap space Orlando still has after the big contracts brought in last off-season by Niki Budalic.
One name out there is Michael Parkhurst, but he won’t come cheap and he’s no spring chicken. Parkhurst is fresh off a fantastic season in Atlanta and still moves pretty well considering his age, but it’s unlikely Orlando would pony up for his services. The Lions could draft a defender with the third overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft but you can’t count on a college player stepping in right away either.
It will likely require signings and/or trades to get the back line up to snuff. The off-season may be dark and full of terrors, but this promises to be a busy one for Orlando City and an important one if the team is going to start to climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.