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Orlando City’s Rookie Class of 2019 Showed Tremendous Potential for the Future

MLS Rookie of the Year may have gone to Colorado’s Andre Shinyashiki but the Lions may have found three gems of their own in 2019.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC
Orlando’s rookie trio of Michel, Patino, and Miller was solid in 2019.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City came into the 2019 season with three rookies on the roster — Homegrown Player Benji Michel and MLS SuperDraft selections Santiago Patiño and Kamal Miller. All three players showed promise in 2019, with Miller earning starting minutes on the Canadian Men’s National Team due to his versatility and athleticism at both center back and left back and Patiño getting a call-up from the Colombian U-23s. Meanwhile, Michel developed nicely over the course of the season and put up numbers comparable to MLS Rookie of the Year Andrei Shinyashiki of the Colorado Rapids.

Shinyashiki is a player that — like Patiño — stood out at the MLS Player Combine prior to the draft. At only 5-foot-9, the Rapids forward isn’t as physically impressive as the broad-chested, 6-foot-1 Patiño, but his play stood out at Exploria Stadium in the combine sessions I saw. The league’s top rookie has Orlando-area ties, having played at Montverde Academy, which he attended alongside Michel. Our Scott Carnevale wrote about Shinyashiki’s impressive run at the MLS Combine. Patiño, an Orlando-born Florida International product, who fell just a few months shy of qualifying for Homegrown Player status for Orlando City, also impressed at the event.

Orlando selected Patiño with the No. 3 overall pick and Shinyashiki fell to the Rapids at No. 5. At the time, Luiz Muzzi and James O’Connor both spoke about how they considered Patiño an Orlando Homegrown and how the club wanted to show its commitment to its academy players, past and present. Patiño was more than a draft selection — he was also a message to the area’s youth players that they are welcome and wanted. It was a necessary step by a club that had mismanaged its youth setup for years and was leaking potential prospects to the college game.

It’s easy now to point to Shinyashiki’s league award and say the Lions made the wrong choice on draft day, but it is also perhaps premature to do so. The Brazil native required Colorado to spend an international slot on him, which may have played a role in Orlando selecting Patiño, a guy physically built more like a traditional striker.

Shinyashiki benefited in 2019 from a less crowded group of attacking players ahead of him than Patiño, although it’s also possible he was simply more ready to step into the rotation as well. As a result, Shinyashiki won the league’s top rookie award after a season in which he played in 31 matches (18 starts), totaling 1,670 minutes. The Brazilian scored seven goals and added three assists.

Meanwhile, Orlando’s rookies also performed well when called upon, but struggled for minutes behind a three-man forward line that included Nani, Dom Dwyer, a resurgent Tesho Akindele, and Chris Mueller. Breaking in among that group was difficult for Patiño and Michel — even with Dwyer’s scoring slump in full swing this summer. Michel eventually managed to do so late in the season.

Patiño saw the field only 11 times and started only three matches, tallying 322 minutes. But he made good use of that time, scoring two goals and adding an assist. Michel got on the pitch 17 times, starting nine games and playing 943 minutes. In that time, he scored five goals and added an assist.

If you break these numbers down, Patiño actually has the fewest average minutes per goal, as the rookie scored every 161 minutes on the pitch (yes, in an admittedly very small sample size). Michel, who has a larger sample size, scored a goal every 188.6 minutes he was on the field. Shinyashiki scored once for every 238.6 minutes he played. If you factor in assists, Patiño still leads the trio. He was involved in a goal (either scoring or assisting on one) every 107 minutes he played. Michel either scored a goal or assisted on one every 157 minutes. Shinyashiki did so every 167 minutes.

I’m not suggesting that Michel or Patiño are necessarily better or more successful than the MLS Rookie of the Year or that they’re as far along in their development. These numbers suggest that all three players were effective but it should not be overlooked that Shinyashiki had more opportunity. Obviously this gave him an advantage in driving his totals higher but he also got himself on the pitch. Whether that is because he had a less crowded field of attackers to navigate in Colorado than Patiño and Michel had in Orlando — Nicolas Mezquida seemed to be relegated largely to a sub role in Colorado and Jonathan Lewis only played in 16 games, leaving Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio as the team’s only other consistent attacking choices — or if he simply showed his coach that he was more ready, I couldn’t say, as I’m not at training every day. The Rapids’ reward for playing their kids was deserved.

But if Michel and Patiño can build on their 2019 seasons, and Miller can improve upon a rookie year in which he played 16 games (14 starts), this could be Orlando’s best draft class to date, regardless of a lack of league awards among the three. It has some way to go to beat the Cyle Larin-Earl Edwards Jr. draft of 2015, but the Lions’ Class of 2019 is off to a good start.