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Orlando City’s Defensive Midfield Play is Making it Tough for Uri Rosell to Find Minutes

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With Cristian Higuita and Yoshimar Yotún playing well, Rosell hasn’t yet had a chance to make the type of impact that was expected.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of January, Orlando City spent $400,000 Garber bucks to move up in the allocation order to sign defensive midfielder Oriol “Uri” Rosell. After excelling with Sporting Kansas City and winning an MLS Cup, Uri was expected to come in and help the Lions on both sides of the field.

He is a strong defensive midfielder who can dominate the game from the No. 6 role. Proficient at impeding the opposition and excellent on the ball, the Spaniard was supposed be a key member of this year’s squad.

However, after Rosell struggled to recover from a knee injury in preseason, Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis was forced to look elsewhere — and after eight games and a five-game win streak, Cristian Higuita is currently doing what Rosell was brought in for.

Through the first eight games Higuita has played just half of the matches but came on recently to take Will Johnson’s spot a few games ago when Johnson slid to right back for injured RJ Allen. Since that game, Higuita has been doing enough to keep a starting spot. His 90% passing accuracy is about as good as can be asked for and leads the team among all players who have played at least 45 minutes.

Defensively, the Colombian averages the second-most tackles per game (3.3) and fifth-most interceptions (1.3) and clearances (1.8) per game for the Lions. All of those are the highest among non-defenders. Typical of his game, Higuita has the most fouls per game, but he also draws the most fouls.

While Higuita has been a rock defensively, his defensive midfield partner, Yoshimar Yotún, has been the same on the opposite side of the ball. His three assists and 17 key passes lead the team, but most impressive is that he has about 1.5 times more passes than the next-highest Lion, Mohamed El-Munir. Combine that with his 84% passing accuracy and he has 86 more accurate passes than El-Munir’s total attempted passes. If that’s not all, these two midfielders can still play at higher levels.

So where does that leave Rosell? As of right now, on the bench, and for Kreis that is an excellent problem to have. Uri could go to most MLS teams and be an instant starter, but because of how well Higuita and Yoshi are playing, the Spaniard has to come off the bench for Orlando.

Finally healthy enough to play, Rosell made the 18 for the first time when the Lions visited Philadelphia on April 13. He then made his debut for Orlando City on April 21, playing the final six minutes of the San Jose match. On Sunday, Rosell played 23 minutes in the second half at Colorado after relieving Higuita. Clearly Kreis is taking Rosell’s return slowly to avoid any setbacks but the Spaniard will soon be needed at 90-minute match fitness as Yotún’s future includes a World Cup absence this summer.

Rosell is still getting to know his new team on the pitch but he still managed to complete 88% of his passes over his first 29 minutes on the field with Orlando City. But the bar has been set high by the Higuita-Yotún pairing and Uri will need to earn his way onto the field for more playing time.

Perhaps his first start will be against Atlanta or Toronto because of a shortened week, but don’t expect to see Rosell in the starting XI right now.