Now that Oscar Pareja is in in place as Orlando City’s new head coach, he and Luiz Muzzi can continue the transformation of the roster that began during the off-season prior to the 2019 MLS season. That window saw several key players added, including team captain Nani, defender Robin Jansson, midfielder Sebas Mendez, and fullbacks Ruan and Joao Moutinho.
With the club parting ways with several starting players after the 2019 season, additional pieces will need to be brought in. Who will Muzzi and Pareja add in the coming weeks and months? A look at the current roster offers some clues. Let’s take a look by position group.
Currently there are 19 players listed on Orlando City’s roster:
Alex De John (can also play fullback)
Kamal Miller (can also play fullback)
Mauricio Pereyra (can play DM)
Tesho Akindele (can also play wing)
Benji Michel (can also play wing)
Some things jump out immediately when looking at the current roster by position. There are only two goalkeepers on the roster and one of them has never played an MLS match. So a goalkeeper should definitely be on the off-season shopping list. Rowe did a solid job in 2019 but I think it’s fair to say he didn’t steal many points. I could see the club going out and finding a new starter, flush with confidence that Rowe can step in during cup matches or congested fixtures. I could also see the team bringing in an inexpensive backup for Rowe and maintaining the status quo.
Center back is a concern. The team has only three and must add talent in this position group. Jansson was good last year but Lamine Sané was even better. Now that Sané is gone (unless he’s re-signed), Jansson has only De John and Miller as potential partners. Even if Pareja and Muzzi go young and give the job to Miller, they’ll need more bodies. Two more center backs would seem likely, including one of starting quality. De John didn’t play enough to get a real read on what he can do, although he seemed mostly OK in his few appearances.
The Lions could probably get by without adding a fullback due to the flexibility of De John and Miller, however, Ruan and Moutinho missed time with injuries last year. Smith is a fine defensive replacement for either but adds very little going forward. An additional fullback with pace would be a wise investment for the club.
Defensive midfield was a position of strength a year ago, but with Cristian Higuita, Carlos Ascues, Will Johnson, and Dillon Powers all departing, the Lions must add some depth here. Neither Mendez nor Rosell are a traditional midfield enforcer type. Rosell is more of a deep-lying playmaker and switches the point of attack well. The younger Mendez has a lot of potential but must become less predictable about one-touch passing the ball back to the player who gave it to him. Teams began to read that late in 2019 and created some turnovers off of it. One or two additional central midfielders could shore up this position group. One name that has surfaced this off-season is quite a young one, in 19-year-old Colombian Andrés Perea from Atletico Nacional, who was born in nearby Tampa and lived there as a child. But you never know what you’re getting in a teenager.
Andrés Perea es ciudadano norteamericano. Se va para el Orlando City que se queda con el 50% de sus derechos por una suma considerable. Tenía otra oferta del Flamengo pero de menor valor pic.twitter.com/25vsrRzHIv— Gente, Pasión y Fútbol (@gpyfutbol) November 29, 2019
The attacking midfield / wing position group has plenty of bodies, but it doesn’t exactly scare anyone outside of Nani. Pereyra will likely add to that this season. Mueller is a crowd favorite and has a tremendous attitude and work ethic but his production must improve if he’s going to ever lock down a starting position. The five goals and four assists he provided in 2019 were solid, but unspectacular numbers. Mueller had goal droughts of 12, five, and four games last season.
Colmán and Robinho are huge question marks. The former might stay on loan — he would still require a DP slot under his current contract — but I suspect Pareja will want to take a look at him before making that decision. The Paraguayan still has a lot of upside but he’ll never be a prolific scorer. Robinho also has potential but struggled to get on the field after being acquired from Columbus a year ago. Akindele and Michel can play the wing as well. It certainly wouldn’t be bad for Orlando to pick up an accomplished midfield scorer who can also set up goals in the mold of a Nicolas Lodeiro or Ignacio Piatti but I realize those don’t grow on trees and they ain’t cheap.
Up front, the Lions will be banking on Dwyer returning to form in 2020 and his final matches of 2019 would indicate he’s capable of doing that. Patino is very raw and might benefit from a USL loan stint for a year. This too is a position you’d like to see Orlando City spend some money on this off-season. Independiente Medellin’s German Cano has turned up in off-season rumors and would seemingly fit the bill.
By my count, going by what is currently on the roster, Orlando could use about eight additions: a goalkeeper, two center backs, a fullback, a pair of defensive midfielders, an attacking midfielder, and a striker. That would put the club at 27 players, but Stajduhar could go back on loan, and the club could also leave Colmán on loan. Additionally, Patino and perhaps Robinho are good loan candidates. Of course, the Lions will also need to find spots for whoever they draft if they end up signing.
History shows the Lions start adding players in mid-to-late December and sometimes make additions right up to the first week of the MLS season. Buckle up, it should be an interesting off-season.