Orlando City struggled at left back for a few years before finding the speedy Mohamed El-Munir in 2018. While El-Mo was often a defensive liability on back-post balls and sometimes got turned around in 1-v-1 defending, he was at least an upgrade over what came before. The Lions saw an opportunity to get a gifted young player to upgrade from fan favorite El-Munir when they sent the Libyan to LAFC in exchange for Joao Moutinho on Dec. 11, 2018.
The first overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Moutinho showed promise as a rookie in Los Angeles but had difficulty staying on the field. That problem cropped up again in Orlando this past season but when the Lisbon, Portugal native was on the field he helped contribute to some of the team’s better performances. Having him out near the end of the season contributed in no small part to Orlando’s struggles down the stretch.
Moutinho played in 16 matches (15 starts) in 2019 totaling 1,221 minutes — all career highs. He didn’t score a goal on his nine shot attempts (two on target) but he did provide three assists this season. Only four Orlando players finished with more assists than Moutinho — who tied with Mauricio Pereyra for fifth on the team — and all of them played at least 11 more matches than the Portuguese fullback. His assist against the New York Red Bulls on March 23 was a game-winning assist. His passing could have been better at 75.2% this season — behind other fullbacks Kyle Smith, Ruan, Kamal Miller, and Danny Acosta — although he was seventh on the team in key passes per match (0.8), finishing first in that category among the club’s defenders. Only Cristian Higuita and Sebas Mendez averaged more successful dribbles per match than Moutinho’s 1.4.
Despite being asked to do a lot of transition and wide 1-v-1 defending, Moutinho committed just 16 fouls all season compared to 10 he drew on the opposition, and he received only one yellow card. His 2.3 tackles per game were only behind Higuita (2.7) and Mendez (2.4) on the team this season; his interception rate of 1.1 per game was tied with Miller for fourth-best on the team; and he averaged 0.9 clearances and 0.1 blocks per match.
Many of Moutinho’s matches were a bit inconsistent but the good tended to outweigh the bad. He excelled in the 5-1 win over FC Cincinnati but I think his best game this year epitomizes his inconsistency, as he had a difficult start against the Colorado Rapids on April 6 but recovered nicely to have a strong match. I only gave him a grade of 6.5 that night in a 4-3 win over Colorado but as I look back at it that might be a tad harsh. He did have a few poor touches on switches to his side early in the game and a few defensive adventures but he overcame them nicely and even got seven readers’ votes for Man of the Match.
Moutinho tied Ruan for second on the team in touches (79) that night, just one behind leader Sacha Kljestan that night. He passed at a 70% clip and his lone key pass in the match helped Nani open his Orlando City account and put the Lions on the board just past the half-hour mark.
Defensively, Moutinho finished with a team-high seven tackles and two interceptions in the game and played a big role in the Lions winning their second match of the season.
2019 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff awarded Moutinho a composite grade of 6. He clearly has skill on the ball and he may be better suited as a left wingback with a three-man back line behind him than as a traditional fullback, as he sometimes gets taken advantage of in the wide areas and drifts a bit far into the middle. But he has good recovery speed, anticipates movement and passes well, gets into passing lanes, does a decent job of blocking cross attempts, and tackles quite well in space. He’s a gifted attacking player and seems to have a good sense of when to get forward down the flank and into the penalty area. Considering he’s only 21 and has played the equivalent of one MLS season’s worth of games, he still has tremendous upside.
Orlando City will be hoping for a healthier Moutinho in 2020 so the team can realize some of that still-untapped potential. The left back showed a good understanding of how to work with Nani on the left side of Orlando’s offense in 2019. He adds an additional option to the Lions’ attack and contrasts nicely with Ruan’s blazing speed approach on the opposite side. Having both Moutinho and Ruan on the pitch together puts stress on the opponents’ wide defenders. Moutinho can only get better and more consistent with more minutes and those can only come if his body holds up. I expect the Lions will take a look at all facets of his preparation and workout routines this off-season to see if there is anything that can be done to maximize his time on the pitch because he’s shown himself to be a useful player when he’s able to suit up.