Orlando City’s first three seasons in MLS has been consistently marred by defensive woes. Neither Adrian Heath nor Jason Kreis have been able to find the correct combination of central defenders to protect the net, allowing an astounding 174 goals — an average of 58 every season and 1.7 per game, consistently among the worst in the league — and there hasn’t been any reprieve no matter the personnel, formation, or playing style.
Eleven different center backs have put on a purple shirt during those three seasons and almost none have stuck for a variety of reasons and a few fullbacks have even shifted centrally at times in an attempt to stop the bleeding. The majority haven’t been good enough, washing out after a season or two and being released or waived. A handful never even played a competitive match for Orlando, even with the poor performances. Some played well or were promising, but couldn’t stick.
Conor Donovan suffered a debilitating knee injury during his rookie season and never fully recovered. Aurélien Collin was inexplicably benched and then traded to the New York Red Bulls in a head-scratching deal that saw the Lions pay a good amount of his salary and take back only a near-worthless fourth-round SuperDraft pick. Sean St. Ledger played well in 2015 but a few nights out in New York City saw him waived after just four months. Tommy Redding, considered by many to be the future for Orlando at the position, refused extension talks and was shipped out to join Collin in order to acquire Sacha Kljestan. Mismanagement and bad luck has left the Lions with a revolving door in the middle of the back line.
And what seemed to be an obvious deficiency has only seen a blip of movement in an off-season full of big splashes. Kreis stripped the squad down to the bones, letting Donovan, Redding, and Seb Hines go and ending Devron García’s forgettable tenure, leaving only Jonathan Spector and José Aja. Then the front office rebuilt the midfield from the ground up, shored up the depth at fullback, and brought in some new blood at striker. But it was months until the Lions finally added a third central defender in Amro Tarek last week. Jason Kreis has mentioned that another defender is on the way, the only players remotely linked are veteran Chris Schuler, who has been in training camp for three weeks but wouldn’t be likely to be a consistent starter, and the persistent off-season rumors of Dušan Cvetinović.
And while Tarek isn’t the most exciting signing on paper, he may be exactly what Orlando needs. Interestingly enough, the Egyptian has been paired with Spector since he joined.
Notes from training: Jonathan Spector trained alongside Amro Tarek in team scrimmage, and Jose Aja and Chris Schuler (trialist) were the other pair of CB’s this morning.— Mike Gramajo (@byMikeGramajo) February 7, 2018
Orlando’s individual issues were twofold last season. Outside of Spector, the other center backs were a revolving door. José Aja was never composed with the ball at his feet and constantly put the rest of the team in perilous situations with wayward passing. The rest of the team struggled with quicker attackers. Players like David Accam, Romell Quioto, Josef Martinez, and Alberth Elis had devastating effects and shredded Orlando for multiple goals.
Those aren’t problems for Tarek.
Amro was predominantly an attacking player when he began his career in Germany, only shifting back to defense with El Gouna in 2013. Even then, he primarily served as a left back and left winger for the Egyptian Premier League side. Because of that, his transition to center back has come with some skill on the ball:
But Tarek also brings pace, which will be even more crucial even if he does not end up being a key starter. In Egypt, he was known for his speed and it earned him a contract with Real Betis upon the Spanish club’s promotion to La Liga in 2015. Even as a situational starter, Tarek provides another option for Kreis against the Accams of the league. It’s a type of defender that Orlando has not had in its arsenal in previous seasons and could perhaps change the club’s defensive misfortunes.