When Orlando City SC started its roster revamp prior to the 2018 MLS season, the left back position was not seen as a priority for most of the people that follow the club. With Donny Toia coming off a decent season and Victor “PC” Giro established as his backup, it was somehow surprising when the Lions announced the signing of Mohamed El-Munir.
The Libyan international was absolutely unknown in MLS and he lost a portion of preseason while he waited for his work visa to fly to Florida, it was a little bit of a shock when he started the season opener against D.C. United over Toia.
Since then, El-Munir has alternated promising plays and worrying moments and if after four matches one thing can be said for sure about the 25-year-old defender, it is that the effort is clearly there.
The best representation of El-Munir’s hard work on the field came on his first match as a Lion, when in the 78th minute of a game in which Orlando had been a man-down since the 41st-minute mark, he made an impressive 70-yard run to block what could have been a game-clinching goal from Darren Mattocks.
The defensive game has, by the way, been the most intriguing part of El-Munir’s game so far. Some of his numbers are extremely impressive as he leads the entire league in interceptions (4.5 per game) and is second in tackles (6.3) according to WhoScored.com.
However, another thing that these stats tell is that he’s been targeted a lot by opponents. El-Munir has been dribbled an average 2.8 times every match, the highest number among the team and one that makes him rank 13th in the league.
Defending the far post has been the main area of struggle for the Libyan so far. In four matches, he was beaten by his man inside the penalty box twice in situations that ended with the ball in the back of the net. That was the case last weekend, on the New York Red Bulls’ first goal, when Florian Valot had way too much space to head it home.
On the offensive side of the ball, El-Munir’s game is still a work in progress. He ranks fourth on the team in passes per game (41.8) and is second in dribbles (2.5), but the production is not there yet.
Last weekend, he recorded his first assist as a Lion, but the throw-in that set Dom Dwyer up to score Orlando’s third goal displayed more intelligence and fast decision-making skills in an important moment of the match than ability itself.
His limited offensive contributions should not be a big issue as Scott Sutter is usually more active on the right side and having a pair of fullbacks with different skill sets and playing styles is more beneficial than harmful to teams, especially one like Orlando, which possesses a handful of talented offensive players.
After the first four games, El-Munir left a good early impression on Orlando City supporters and he’s already among the fan favorites, but he’s clearly far away from his potential and only time will tell if he’s able to live up to the expectations. As the season progresses and the team gets better chemistry, we should be able to see what he is really about.
After years struggling with the likes of Luke Boden, Corey Ashe and Brek Shea, Orlando City rightfully took the same route picking up Toia in 2017. The now-backup is a proven player in the league — one who’s not brilliant, but gets the job done. In El-Munir, the Lions have a wildcard, who either can exceed expectations if he develops properly or become a liability if he can’t fix his flaws.