The heist movie is a tale as old as time. A ragtag group of unlikely individuals unites for a single purpose: the score. Whether it be a suitcase full of diamonds, billions of dollars, or a priceless painting, they’re all motivated by getting their hands on the all important score.
When you think about it (for the purposes of this article), an MLS season isn’t that dissimilar from a heist movie. Teams are comprised of a colorful cast of players hailing from countries all over the world, all united by the quest for the MLS Cup. Any heist worth its salt needs a crew, and Orlando City has put together quite the interesting one for the upcoming MLS season.
This past off-season saw a hefty amount of roster turnover for the Lions, but never fear: We at The Mane Land are here to get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the team ahead of the season opener. So without any more waffling, here is a briefing on the purple and gold crew taking part in the heist for the 2018 MLS Cup, better known as: Orlando’s Eleven.
This is the guy who heads the whole operation. He’s well respected, keeps everyone in line, and is supremely skilled at what he does. Think George Clooney in the Ocean’s series. For Orlando, that guy is Jonathan Spector. Even though he only signed with the Lions last year, Spector has already become a standout performer for the team who anchors the back line. As far as the part about being a well-respected leader, Specs was just named captain for the upcoming season, so that should tell you everything you need to know.
The Second in Command
Exactly what the name implies, the second in command is the right-hand man to the Mastermind; the Brad Pitt to Ocean’s Clooney. As far as I’m concerned, that distinction goes to Joe Bendik. Much like the Mastermind, a Second in Command has to be an experienced and talented leader who has a plan for any situation. Since joining the Lions in 2016, Bendik has proven to be an excellent shot stopper with a knack for making difficult saves. While a shaky defense has resulted in him not always having the most eye-catching stats around, anyone familiar with the team knows just how important Joe is. Not sure how I feel about his mullet though:
This is the often youthful team member who helps the gang get past whatever high-tech security is standing in its way. New boy Josué Colmán was signed to be this team’s hacker and help get the Lions past MLS defenses. After two years in Paraguay’s top flight, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder will be looking to provide plenty of assists for a team that had more than its share of offensive struggles last season. His signing as a Young Designated Player points to big things being expected from him, and with some seasoned veterans around him to learn from, fans will be hoping that he catches on quick.
The Gadget Genius
This particular role overlaps somewhat with that of the Hacker. The Gadget Genius provides all the fancy tools to break into the vault, safe, or building where the score is being held. That particular role goes to Sacha Kljestan. Last season’s MLS assist king with a whopping 17, Sacha has any number of defense-splitting passes up his sleeve, and while he doesn’t score a ton of goals he’s certainly capable of doing so. He too is expected to be a big part of this team’s offense, and the hope will be that he can pick up right where he left off after serving a suspension incurred during the playoffs last season with the New York Red Bulls.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what purpose this guy serves. He needs to be big, he needs to be strong, and he needs to be a badass. Without a doubt, that has to be new signing Lamine Sané. Standing 6-foot-4 and hailing from Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, Sané was brought in to add some much-needed steel to the center of a defense that struggled last season. Sané is a veteran presence who’s seen time in the Champions League and anchored Bordeaux’s back line for over 180 games. Hopefully his wealth of expertise is something that the rest of the defense can key into, because at 34 games long, the MLS season is dark and full of terrors.
The New Kid
The apprentice, the greenhorn, the newbie, whatever you want to call him, this is the young guy who is doing his first major job with the big boys. Enter Chris Mueller. The sixth overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft turned quite a few heads in the team’s preseason games, and a number of TML’s staffers picked him to be the team’s breakout player. A key part of the Wisconsin team that won the Big Ten title last year, the midfielder recorded 20 assists and banged in nine goals to boot. Keep an eye on this kid, he’s one to watch.
This is the gentleman who gets into the vault and helps himself to whatever goodies are inside. All the previous work that the other members of the team perform goes towards getting this guy into position to grab the sparkly things. What better metaphor for a Burglar than a striker, and Orlando’s star striker is Dom Dwyer. While he didn’t have his most prolific season in front of goal last year, Dwyer is a more than proven MLS goal-scoring commodity, and with all of the offensive pieces that have been put in place around him, the expectation is that he’ll get right back among the goals.
The Pickpocket swipes anything and everything that the heist crew might need in order to complete their mission. For the Lions, defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell will be looking to take the ball off the opposing team before they even realize what’s happening. He’s pretty good at it, too — Rosell was part of the Sporting Kansas City team that won the 2013 MLS Cup, and in case you needed any more assurances of his talent, he’s a product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy. Rosell joins the purple and gold from Sporting Clube de Portugal, and his previous experience in MLS could prove invaluable down the stretch.
As the name suggests, the Conman is a tricky fellow who uses an array of tricks and deceit in order to help the cause. With his dribbling skills and excellent 1-v-1 ability, Justin Meram is a perfect fit for this role. He spent his time with the Columbus Crew as a winger, breaking fullbacks’ ankles and creating chances both for his teammates and himself. The ex-Crew player has been a thorn in the Lions’ side on more than one occasion, and it’ll be nice to be on the other side of the stick for once.
The Fixer is one of the most valuable people on the team. No matter what the situation requires, he can help and he’s seemingly able to do a bit of everything. Last year that player was Yoshimar Yotún. While he only played in 10 games after joining the club at the end of the summer transfer window, Yoshi quickly endeared himself to fans by working hard, doing whatever was required, and doing it well. In most every game he played it seemed like the midfielder was everywhere, popping up in the back to help out the defense and joining in the attack on more than one occasion. Registering four assists and a goal in those 10 games wasn’t a bad start to his Orlando City career, and I for one am excited to see what the Peruvian can do this year.
The Old Vet
The last entry on this list, the Old Vet is the guy who gets pulled out of retirement for “one last job.” While he might not have retired at the end of last season, Will Johnson is most certainly a veteran, having spent 10 years in MLS. The midfielder has seen action in 238 regular season games as well as 25 playoff games, and was part of the Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers MLS Cup-winning teams. Like Rosell and Bendik, his experience could prove very important to a team with a lot of players new to MLS, and he should provide a strong veteran presence to a team looking to find its identity.
Obviously not every member of the team’s 28-man roster is listed here, and I apologize for that. But in my defense, coming up with these comparisons isn’t the easiest thing in the world. However, that leaves plenty of room for y’all to come up with your own ideas. So, who or what did I miss? Are there any players you think would be better suited for the roles I listed above? Let me know in the comments, and as always, vamos City!