Orlando City’s busy off-season continued today with defender Alex De John and Homegrown goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar joining Ruan and Uri Rosell in returning to the club for 2020. The club announced that both De John and Stajduhar have agreed to one-year deals with options for additional seasons.
Both players had their options declined at the end of the 2019 season but both will be back in purple for next year, meaning Luiz Muzzi likely got them to accept deals that were a little more fiscally responsible for the club.
De John, 28, was initially signed back on Jan. 10 out of Sweden, where he was playing for Dalkurd FF. De John appeared in six matches for the Lions in 2019 (all starts). He didn’t log a goal or an assist managed only one shot attempt, which was not on target. He averaged 0.5 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per game. His tackles per game place him last among defenders in that category and he’s ahead of only Kyle Smith’s 0.6 in interceptions per game. His 0.3 blocks per game was last among players who appeared at center back, although in fairness he did play some fullback.
However, he led Orlando City in average clearances per game, with an impressive 5.8. He averaged 0.2 key passes per match and passed at an 81% rate, placing him third among center backs and fourth among all defenders in the latter category. A gentlemanly player, De John committed only three fouls this season and received one yellow card.
In the U.S. Open Cup, De John appeared in three of the team’s four matches for 112 minutes, starting at Memphis and coming off the bench against New York City FC and Atlanta. He had one shot attempt in the tournament and drew one free kick.
For his efforts in 2019, The Mane Land staff gave De John a rating of 5 for the season.
“We are very happy to have Alex back with the club in 2020,” said Orlando City SC EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi in a club press release. “His experience abroad and in the U.S. makes him a valuable member of our roster and adds needed depth to our back line. We look forward to having his presence back within the team for this year.”
De John attended Old Dominion University in Virginia from 2009 to 2012 before joining the Central Spartans of the USL Premier Development League. After one year in the PDL, De John moved to Finland, where he first joined Ekenäs IF and then Turun Palloseura in 2014. He made 34 total appearances for Turun Palloseura during that season, recording three goals and two assists.
In 2015, De John moved to Norway, where he joined IK Start, making 41 appearances in two seasons in the Norwegian first division, scoring one goal. In 2017, De John moved to Sweden where he joined Dalkurd FF, making 20 appearances and scoring one goal in the club’s second division, helping the team get promoted into the Allsvenskan. That season he made 43 appearances for the club, scoring twice.
In total, De John made 125 appearances while in Europe, recording seven goals and two assists over six seasons.
Stajduhar, 21, has yet to play in an MLS match, but he’s dealt with injury and illness since signing as the club’s fourth ever Homegrown Player back in December of 2015. After dealing with some injury setbacks in 2016 and 2017, Stajduhar was diagnosed with Localized Ewing Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in November of 2017 and underwent treatment, missing the 2018 season. After being cleared to return, the young goalkeeper was loaned out to the Tulsa Roughnecks of the USL Championship for most of the 2019 season, where he appeared in 17 matches (all starts), registering 48 saves and keeping two clean sheets, with 11 catches, 12 punches, and 27 clearances.
A former member of City’s U-16, U-18, and U-23 Academy teams, Stajduhar has featured for the United States U-18 and U-20 Men’s National Teams. He was selected as the starting goalkeeper in the 2019 MLS Homegrown Game in Orlando, where the MLS side defeated Chivas de Guadalajara’s U-20 team in penalty kicks.
“We are thrilled to have Mason continue with the club after he had a strong season on loan last year,” Muzzi said in the club release. “Investing in and developing our Homegrown Players is extremely important to us and Mason exemplifies the pathway we have worked to establish from our academy to the first team. We look forward to seeing him grow and contribute to the team even more in the coming year.”
What it Means for Orlando City
Muzzi continues to restructure the team’s contracts with these moves. Both players could have simply had their options picked up. The only reason a team typically would re-sign players to new deals rather than pick up their options is to use the team’s salary cap more efficiently. De John made just under $147,000 last season and Stajduhar made nearly $71,000. Both players may have been in line for raises and since both would seem to be depth players, Muzzi likely was able to keep them for less money than they were previously scheduled to make. That’s good business from a club perspective.
De John showed signs of being a quality backup but six games and 406 minutes is not truly enough time to fully see what a player can do. With Lamine Sané, Shane O’Neill, and Carlos Ascues all having had their options declined, it was important to add some center back depth. Clearly Muzzi believes in De John as a player. Sané will be a difficult player to replace, but whoever is paired with Robin Jansson will need someone to fill in from time to time. Personally I thought it was curious that De John was more out of favor than O’Neill much of the year, but the New Jersey native also sustained a nasty concussion in the Portland game.
The Lions let all of their goalkeepers go except Brian Rowe after the season. Stajduhar is still very young and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him loaned out after preseason training camp for the entirety of 2020. His emergence and ability to stay healthy in 2019 may have made Greg Ranjitsingh and Adam Grinwis a bit more expendable as backups. Muzzi has been a vocal proponent of taking care of the club’s Homegrown talent and so it’s good to see Mason back in the fold, although he’ll want to improve upon his 57.1% save percentage. As a Homegrown Player, he’s salary cap friendly, but it’s still Muzzi’s job to structure contracts in a way that makes sense for the club in terms of overall spending.