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2019 Orlando City Season in Review: Robin Jansson

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The beefy Swede helped Orlando City turn around a historically bad defense in his first MLS season.

SOCCER: OCT 06 MLS - Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Orlando City added Swedish defender Robin Jansson on March 12 in what seemed at the time to be a minor acquisition. The Lions had already acquired Alex De John and Kamal Miller and already had Lamine Sané, Shane O’Neill, and Carlos Ascues. Jansson was an unknown to most U.S. soccer fans at the time but the story of his rise from part-time pro working in a horseshoe factory, to a guy who helped his team, AIK, win an Allsvenskan title and earned a national team call-up, captured the imagination of fans.

Once he finally got onto the field, Jansson looked like he’d been playing with his teammates for years. His blue collar work rate and physicality made him a fan favorite early on and his play on the field helped transform the worst defense in MLS history into one that was difficult to score on week in and week out.

He wasn’t the team’s best player or the most talented individually, but he might have been my favorite player to watch in 2019. Let’s take a look at his first MLS season.

Statistical Breakdown

The Trollhattan, Sweden native made 28 appearances for Orlando City — all starts — in 2019, playing a total of 2,421 minutes. Despite not arriving until the season started and making his debut with a 90-minute performance in a 1-0 win at the New York Red Bulls on March 23, Jansson led all Lions in minutes played. He did not score a goal or assist on one and none of his 10 shot attempts on the season were on target during league play. He committed 17 fouls on the year while drawing 11, and was booked six times and sent off once.

With a passing rate of 83.1%, Jansson was the eighth most accurate Lion in 2019. He did not make a lot of tackles for a center back, averaging just 0.7 per game, but the ones he made were memorable and necessary — often as the last defender between the opposing striker and his goalkeeper. He averaged an interception per game, tying for sixth best on the club, and tied for the second-best blocked shot rate, averaging 0.5. His clearances average of 4.2 per match was third on the team and second among regular starters to Sané.

In U.S. Open Cup play, Jansson started all four of the team’s matches, playing every one of the Lions’ 420 minutes. He scored his first goal with Orlando City in the 3-1 victory at Memphis 901 FC on June 12, getting his lone USOC shot on target.

He committed three fouls and sustained two across the four matches in the competition.

Best Game

Jansson’s best performance of 2019 was likely his role in Orlando’s 2-0 win at Columbus on June 29. In that match, Jansson took a free kick to the face but kept on going. His tackle started the sequence that ended in Tesho Akindele’s 66th-minute goal and he made 12 clearances, a block, an interception, and two tackles in the game.

He seemed to win every aerial ball that came into Orlando’s penalty area and received a lofty and rare grade of 9 for his performance and shared our Man of the Match honors with fellow center back Sané, as the pairing played brilliantly throughout the game. Jansson’s reader vote for MotM was much higher than Sané’s — who had at least as good a match as Jansson or better — showing that the Swede had truly captured Orlando fans’ hearts.

2019 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Jansson a composite grade of 6.5 for his first MLS season, which aligns pretty well with his individual game grades, as he averaged just over a six in the season’s first half and just under that mark in the second half, but overall he did what he was signed to do — paired with Sané in central defense to make Orlando City a much more difficult team to score against. The team improved in goals against from 74 to 52 in 2019, and a bit of a fall-off in the final month of the season prevented that from being an even bigger improvement — the Lions allowed two or more goals in five of the last six games, including an uncharacteristic five in the season finale. Despite the late lapse, Orlando was a much better defensive club in 2018 and if the team makes even a fourth as great an improvement in 2020, it will have one of the league’s most stingy defenses.

2020 Outlook

Jansson will likely be back in 2020 and he now has a good understanding of what a schedule in Major League Soccer looks like. He’ll have a full training camp in preseason to work with his teammates. The only unknown right now is how he’ll be viewed by Orlando City’s next head coach, whether that’s front runner Oscar Pareja or someone else. Jansson’s pace and size may not suit some coaches’ idea of a top flight center back, but he’s a difficult defender to break down, generally reads the play well, and can be a physical presence.


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