The fact that Orlando City announced the signing of Jhegson Sebastián Méndez the day after the club sold Yoshimar Yotún to Mexican side Cruz Azul was not mere coincidence. Even though the midfielders have distinct playing styles, the Lions are taking a flyer on the young Ecuadorian as a potential replacement for the veteran Peruvian international.
While Yotún based his game over the last season and a half on his efficient passing skills and smart distribution from the center of the field, “Sebas” Méndez is expected to add a different element to Orlando’s midfield. The 21-year-old Ecuadorian is a prototypical box-to-box midfielder and his main strengths are his ability to cover ground and his offensive aggressiveness, especially in transition.
One of the priorities for Orlando City’s front office was adding more athleticism and speed to the team’s midfield in 2019. Méndez, an up-and-coming talent in the South American region, checked these boxes and the Lions are optimistic his addition will bring the energy they are looking for.
“Sebas is a very exciting, young player who we’ve been following for a while. He adds a level of versatility, athleticism and overall quality to our team,” said Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi when the Ecuadoran was signed.
Méndez is expected to be used in the center of the field alongside Uri Rosell or Carlos Ascues. Cristian Higuita and Will Johnson are both under contract for next season, but they don’t seem to be high on the coaching staff’s preferences.
Orlando City took notice of Méndez in early 2018. But Orlando wasn’t the only club to pay attention on Méndez in 2018. To sign the Ecuadoran the Lions had to beat giants São Paulo FC and Orlando’s partner in the country, Atletico Paranaense.
Betting on young players to fill pivotal roles is often risky, but with Méndez the Lions are taking sort of a calculated risk. Despite his young age, he has played in five matches for the Ecuadoran national team and has featured in more than 80 matches with Independiente del Valle, which he captained in 2018, including participation in the last four editions of the Copa Libertadores.
His pedigree should not be an issue either. His uncle, Édison Méndez, was one of the best soccer players in Ecuador, having played in 111 matches and three World Cups for the country’s national team, which he also captained. He also spent time playing for Dutch powerhouse PSV and spent two years of his career, which ended in 2015, in Mexico and Brazil.
Sebas and Edison seem to be close, as the latest Orlando signing reportedly reached out to his uncle when he was handed the captain’s armband for Independiente del Valle. If he gets anywhere near Edison’s level, the Lions will have struck a great deal.