Everyone’s got a favorite player. For me, outside of Orlando City and MLS, Real Madrid and Brazilian superstar left back Marcelo is my main man. When it comes to the Lions, I have two: Mohamed El-Munir and Yoshimar Yotún.
El-Munir, affectionately nicknamed “El-Mo,” instantly stole my heart when he was signed to the Lions back in December of last year. Why? Two reasons: his respect and adulation for the supporters, and his style of play. When I say style of play, I mean to say that I feel like he and I have similar traits... albeit his are on a professional level while I’m barely on a recreational level. His pace, passion, and innate tendency to push forward in support of the midfielders and strikers resonates with me almost on a spiritual level. I love me some El-Mo, there’s no way around it.
Yotún, on the other hand, is my other favorite Lion for an entirely different reason: he’s undervalued, underappreciated, and a key cog in what’s become a revolving door of a Lions starting 11. I truly see Yotún as the linchpin to the Lions’ midfield. His tenacious tackling, constant motor, and pinpoint passing have proven to be vital to any semblance of OCSC success. You could point to the matches he missed during his World Cup journey with Peru as evidence to his value. During that stretch, the Lions lost all seven of their MLS matches. Clearly, Yotún is more than important to the Lions. His three goals and six assists have been near the top of the Lions’ charts respectively, but those numbers don’t speak to his true value in the middle third.
Another highlight to the strengths of Yotún’s abilities was recently displayed in the MLS All-Star Game. Coming on just after the hour mark, his presence was felt almost immediately. Yotún comes off as a humble, team-oriented player, and it even showed during the All-Star Game in which he was the only Lion featured. His ability to blend into the midfield and deliver clever distribution was a pleasure to watch.
His inherent ability to find a pass, typically following a fantastic first touch on the ball, is incredibly valuable. His ability to stick to his marker, make a strong tackle, and win a 50/50 ball is just another weapon in his arsenal. Thing is, that’s not where his arsenal ends. Yotún is also excellent in front of goal — though he does rarely find himself in positions to score for the Lions, but there are reasons for that and we really don’t have time to jump down that rabbit hole at this juncture.
A fine example of Yotún’s offensive abilities were on full display when he tested Toronto FC’s Alex Bono, widely considered one of the best keepers in MLS, from midfield. Yotún’s surprising shot from the center of the park forced Bono into an awkward (that’s being generous, at best) parry that went out for an Orlando City corner kick. Another example? Just look to his MLS All-Star game spot kick. Cool as ice.
Even before that, Yotún’s 80th minute run with the ball was breathtaking, traveling almost the entire length of the pitch to deliver a fine cross to the Timbers’ Diego Valeri, who unfortunately slipped when trying to have a go at goal. A little later, he was even handed the honors of set piece responsibility, sending a nice shot just over the bar in the waning minutes of regular time.
The point that I’m trying to make here is this: I still think Yotún is the most underappreciated player on the Lions’ roster, yet he’s still heavily appreciated by the supporters, the club, and by his teammates. That should say something. No. It speaks volumes. Yotún embodies what Orlando City should be striving to become: talented, humble, and most of all, collected. Yotún does his job, and he does it well. He doesn’t seek out attention. He’s not a diva. He’s just Yotún.
And we’re lucky we get to see him wear purple.