Orlando City announced its latest acquisition on Thursday afternoon, loaning in Peruvian international Carlos Ascues. Announced by Orlando as a defender, Ascues is known for his versatility and could be utilized in multiple roles by Head Coach James O’Connor in the home stretch of 2018.
It’s an interesting pickup for the club, which has a roster already stocked with five center backs and eight central midfielders. It begs the question of exactly what direction the front office is pointing the team in under the new boss in the third attempt to turn OCSC into a contender.
Attrition is natural whenever a coaching change takes place and O’Connor has likely been evaluating his squad since his arrival in early July and felt that Ascues brought a necessary component that the team lacked until now. Defense has been the talking point of O’Connor’s short tenure, with the Lions allowing 20 goals in just seven league matches since the his arrival.
Star center back Jonathan Spector has dealt with a myriad of injuries with multiple concussions followed up by a pulled hamstring shortly after his return to action in July. The former U.S. international has featured in just eight league matches this year. His projected partner at the beginning of the season, former Senegal international Lamine Sané, has dealt with his own lower body injuries that have forced him to watch 11 matches from the sideline this year. The pair has shared the pitch just three times in the league this season.
Ascues is the latest in a line of central defender signings in 2018 trying to remedy the leakiest defense in the league. Amro Tarek, Chris Schuler, and Shane O’Neill have all had their turn manning the center of the park with little noticeable difference. Six center backs on the roster could be considered too much in all but two situations: the club has decided to part ways with at least one on the roster or O’Connor is planning on using more of them on a regular basis.
The club has some flexibility with options at the heart of the defense. Spector, O’Neill, and Schuler all have team options at the end of the league year and the club has a decision to make when Tarek’s loan ends, in a situation similar to Ascues, though the club can purchase Amro permanently. All five of the rostered center backs bring something unique to the table and it’s highly possible the club wants to hold on to all of them going into 2019.
Which brings us to option B.
O’Connor favored three central defenders during his time at Louisville City. Before rejoining the Lions this year, the Irishman deployed a 3-4-3 formation in all but one match this season (an away trip to Indy Eleven in May). Orlando dabbled with the lineup briefly under interim coach Bobby Murphy but didn’t make the change permanent when O’Connor took over.
Bringing in Ascues provides ample cover at the position and plenty of competition for places with players that bring a variety of skills to the table. Carlos adds yet another defender capable of playing with the ball at his feet, which is crucial for O’Connor’s play style and desire to build out of the back.
Adding another center back also potentially solves another of Orlando City’s defensive issues, which is fullbacks that struggle defensively. Mohamed El-Munir, Scott Sutter, RJ Allen, Victor “PC” Giro, and at times Tony Rocha, have all shown positive signs going forward while contributing heavily to Orlando leaking goals. Fewer defensive responsibilities is better for everyone involved.
But the back line isn’t the only spot that Ascues can slot into in a 3-4-3. The versatile skill set he brings to the table makes him capable of dropping in as a holding midfielder or pushing forward and scoring goals. Orlando’s newest No. 26 could be the perfect fit in a two-man midfield asked to cover plenty of space. You can check out some of his exploits in midfield in the viedo below (with a familiar face also sporting Peru’s red and white):
That said, the Lions already have a plethora of central midfielders and Orlando’s crowded midfield may be tough to break in to. Yoshimar Yotún is undroppable when available and Cristian Higuita has taken his game to the next level this season. With the roster also featuring Oriol Rosell, Rocha, Dillon Powers, Will Johnson, and Cam Lindley, the club’s newest Peruvian will have his work cut out for him to carve out a place.
Wherever the newest Lion makes his mark on the lineup, it’s clear the club is trending toward O’Connor’s favorite formation. The transition will likely come in stages, but Ascues is set to be an important cog in Orlando City’s future machine.