Just a week after his stoppage-time goal to steal a point against D.C. United, Stéfano Pinho suffered an ankle injury in the first half against Minnesota United after putting a header on net from a Mohamed El-Munir cross. In the air, Pinho made contact with Minnesota’s Francisco Calvo, and he immediately held his ankle after hitting the ground.
Pinho was on the ground for a good five minutes and had to be taken back to the locker room on a stretcher. He was replaced by last week’s starter, Chris Mueller.
Head Coach Jason Kreis said that Pinho was on crutches in his post-game interview, and that it doesn’t look good at first glance. The club seems to be taking its time with the injury, announcing it will run tests on the ankle once swelling goes down. There is no timetable yet for his return.
For the first two games of the season, midfielder Justin Meram played as a left striker, a position that he normally doesn’t play. Meram had Chris Mueller to his right in the first game of the season against D.C. United and had Pinho to his right to start against Minnesota United. Mueller has already played 120 minutes in his first two MLS games, and he will have to play more, thanks to the lack of depth at the striker position with Dwyer and Pinho both out.
Mueller and Meram will be asked to play extensive minutes and Kreis will have to find a way to take some of the load off of the two as there is really no option off the bench to replace either if need be. Mueller is technically the only forward that is healthy on the roster, which is a daunting reality for a rookie who has only played two professional games.
I believe Sacha Kljestan’s first game this Saturday against New York City FC will bring some closure to this question. Kljestan is a maestro and has led MLS in assists the past two seasons. I believe he can help take the load off of Mueller and Meram by giving them chances on net and building their confidence. Kljestan’s presence should help Mueller the most by allowing the young forward to see some good chances to score his first MLS goal. Once that happens, I believe he’ll be off to the races in terms of scoring.
As for who could be a sub behind Meram and Mueller, it’s up in the air. Richie Laryea could make the jump to the striker position as he is an attacking-minded player. He had a solid night against Minnesota United, but was gassed and had to be subbed off. I believe he could sub on for Mueller late in a game and go full speed for the final 15 minutes to make a difference at the end of the game when it matters.
Besides Laryea, I don’t really see anyone currently healthy at the moment, which leads me to believe you will see Jason Kreis change his 4-4-2 diamond formation.
If Kreis does change the formation based on the current striker situation, he would likely have one striker at the top, likely Meram, and bring Mueller on if need be. This would allow Laryea and others to stay in position, which has been hard for Orlando City to do with so many missing players, but it could allow Orlando City to manage the game a little easier.
A good formation to use, especially with Kljestan’s debut, would be a 4-2-3-1, and I believe it would look something like this:
I believe a 4-2-3-1 formation would be ideal because it would allow Kljestan to control the midfield and give Orlando reliable options on offense. Meram could also come off if need be and the club would still have Mueller available. It’s also a possibility that Meram comes on as a “super sub” and Mueller starts.
No matter how Orlando City plans to move on without Stéfano Pinho, it will likely have to get creative, something it has already done in the first two games of the season. Kljestan’s debut should help the club establish some kind of identity, while Meram and Mueller will have to carry the load in terms of the striker position. Orlando faces New York City FC this Saturday in its first road game of the season, so we will see how the Lions perform without Pinho in the lineup.
Pinho did tweet out about his injury and thanked everyone for the support.
I'd like to thank all of you for the words of encouragement and with your prayers. I will bounce back and stronger ⚽️— Stéfano Pinho (@stefano_pinho) March 11, 2018
Get well soon!