Saturday’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC was a difficult one for Orlando City, but one bright spot at Yankee Stadium was the play of the club’s center backs. The game featured three of Orlando’s four center backs, including the debut of Senegalese international Lamine Sané. It also showed that Jason Kreis will have a welcome problem when it comes to choosing his center back pairing.
The center back position has been a problem for Orlando City since joining MLS. Each year since 2015, the club has gone through a string of central defenders, hoping to find a pair that could strengthen the back line. The club signed former U.S. international Jonathan Spector last year in an attempt to solve the problem. But finding his partner was more difficult. José Aja, Léo Pereira, Seb Hines and Tommy Redding all had their opportunities, but none could prove capable of handling the job.
At the end of the 2017 season, Kreis stated that there would be a huge turnover heading into the 2018 season, and the center back position was a key focus. Aja, Pereira, Hines, and Redding all departed, while Egyptian Amro Tarek and Sané both entered, along with late depth signing Chris Schuler. Having spent most of his early career with German Bundesliga reserve sides, Tarek came to Orlando on loan from Egyptian side Wadi Degla SC after joining the side in 2017. Sané has had a much more successful career, starting for French Ligue 1 club Bordeaux before joining Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen. Personal differences at the club caused the sale of the talented center back, allowing the Lions to swoop in for what is considered a steal.
With the signing of Sané coming so close to the start of the MLS season, it was expected that Tarek would begin the season starting alongside Spector, until Sané was ready. While the club was excited to have Tarek, little was known of the 25-year-old defender, as he had played for teams that are tough to follow. Sané, on the other hand, had played for a big club that regularly plays on American television.
Tarek has been a welcome surprise through the first three games, having a strong performance in each appearance. When Spector went down with a head injury, forcing his departure at halftime Saturday afternoon, it allowed Sané to make his debut. It was worth the wait as Sané quickly showed to be the best defender on the field.
The strong performances by Tarek, Spector, and Sané has created a good problem for Kreis. Assuming Spector’s injury is not very serious, the third-year coach of Orlando City will be forced to choose two of the three center backs to play each game. For the first time since the club joined MLS four years ago, it appears there isn’t a bad decision.
It’s been a very tough start to the 2018 MLS season for Orlando City, only capturing one out of nine possible points. Much of that is due to injuries and suspensions to key players, such as Dom Dwyer, Josué Colmán, Uri Rosell, and Sacha Kljestan. But a bright spot for the team has been the exemplary play of the team’s three center backs. For once, it appears a common weakness will finally be a strength.