We all know the proverbial phrase “patience is a virtue,” but with such a rough start to the 2018 campaign, it appears that the patience of some supporters is already wearing thin. The calls for Head Coach Jason Kreis’ head on social media are growing louder and the division between the fans is becoming more apparent and only three matches of the season have been played.
These are trying times for the Lions and their supporters, there’s no doubting that, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t good news too. The Lions are expecting the return of off-season acquisition Oriol “Uri” Rosell after he needed to regain his form and “get back into soccer shape.”
Uri, a product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, is a former MLS Cup champion and winner of the Taça de Portugal (Cup of Portugal). At just 25, he’s built an international following with a reputation for consistent passing and strong vision for key long balls. In his preferred role at defensive mid, Uri contributes in every third of the pitch; he’s a hard-nosed defender, a clever passer, and his vision and composure provide his teammates more opportunities in front of goal.
He’s not quite what the doctor ordered at this particular juncture, as injuries and inexperience have hindered the Lions’ strikers most, but he’s going to make a difference in the midfield once he gets up to speed with the rest of the squad. Finally, the Lions have some pieces falling into place.
After the Lions acquired his rights for trading up in the Allocation Order, Uri has required essentially all of his time with the club to be focused on his fitness. With word coming out of the Lions’ camp that Uri is actively training with the first team, the excitement around the club is hard to mask. The expectations are going to be high for this midfield stalwart in his debut, and rightly so, but it’s important to remember that he’ll still need some time to mesh with his teammates to learn their tendencies, preferences, and quirks. It’s not an easy feat to join a new club, but being out for an extended period of time after joining certainly doesn’t make it any easier. I expect some growing pains as he settles into the squad.
As far as his positioning and usage, I anticipate that Kreis will ease Uri back into action in his preferred central defensive midfielder role. Perhaps he’ll be brought on for the final half hour of the Lions’ next match at home against the New York Red Bulls. Maybe he’ll even get the nod to start, but I wouldn’t expect to see him for the entire 90 minutes.
I do expect his passing percentage to be amongst the highest on the pitch though, and not just on the Lions’ roster. He still holds the MLS record for the most passes completed in a match at 160 of 166 (96.4%) against the Montreal Impact in 2014 with Sporting Kansas City. His smooth touch and passing often directly translated into him influencing important matches with Sporting KC during a season when the team took home the MLS Cup.
I also see Uri having a positive impact on the players that will line up next to him. Uri’s defensive abilities coupled with his selfless approach to passing and long balls will allow more attack-minded players, such as Yoshimar Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, and Justin Meram, to push further up the pitch, and may even allow the outside backs, specifically Mohamed El-Munir, to get involved in the attack. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Uri and El-Munir’s communication and positioning in particular. I believe that if they find rhythm and chemistry together on the pitch, the squad and its results will benefit greatly.
Once again, Mane Landers, I’m remaining optimistic. The pieces are finally falling into place, and once they do, we’ll have the full picture. What will the picture be of? Will it be of a late-season surge into the MLS playoffs? Or will it be of an upheaval in the Lions’ front office? Only time will tell, so for now remember that “patience is a virtue.”