Orlando City picked up last year’s No. 1 MLS SuperDraft pick Joao Moutinho from LAFC on Dec. 11 in exchange for speedy left back Mohamed El-Munir. The Mane Land reported the impending trade a few days before it happened, but the Portugal native became a Lion the way we expected and the Libyan international fullback packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
Moutinho completed his rookie season in Major League Soccer in 2018. The No. 1 overall pick out of Akron appeared in 14 games (10 starts) in 2018, scoring one goal and attempting seven shots (one on target) in 872 minutes. Before picking up a minor knock during preseason, he was getting minutes in preseason scrimmages and even scored his first goal as a Lion.
Joao Moutinho was selected first overall by LAFC just a year ago. Why do you think the club was willing to move him so early in his career?
Alicia Rodriguez: That’s a good question. I think the main factor is that LAFC thought he would take longer than a year to develop into a reliable starter, and so they moved for El-Munir as part of a “win-now” approach. I think LAFC, like all teams, aims to balance building for the future and winning now, but with the star performers they have now and the nature of turnover in MLS, going for a move that aims to help the team win titles right away makes sense.
How did he fit in with LAFC’s style of play and what factors led to him being relegated to the bench?
AR: He had some good games and some games that weren’t very good, but it was his rookie year. And LAFC’s style of play meant a lot of pressure was put on the defense, and there were times when all the defenders, including Moutinho, couldn’t hold off an opponent. All in all, I think the reason he was on the bench was because he was a rookie and Jordan Harvey showed he was still a consistent MLS starter. There’s no harm in that, and with Harvey aging (eventually), it seemed like there was a succession plan for Moutinho to step in eventually. But they decided to speed up the timeline, arguably, in trading for El-Munir instead.
What did you perceive as Moutinho’s strengths and weaknesses during his rookie season?
AR: Moutinho entered the pros with projections he could play defensive midfielder, center back or fullback. I still think that versatility is a strength, and given how young he remains, he may end up playing a few positions in his career. But in showing that versatility, Moutinho has good finishing chops with his feet and can pop up for the occasional goal, especially as a late runner into the box. His 1-v-1 defense is solid if not yet exceptional, although there’s promise there. As for weaknesses, his crossing seemed to be nonexistent — might have been a product of what he was asked to do, but I think he’s more comfortable with the ball on the grass instead of launching crosses. He’s also lightweight, seemingly far too lightweight to play center back in MLS, so he needs to add more bulk to even have a shot of potentially becoming a center back in the future.
If you were to estimate what Moutinho’s ceiling is as a player, what would it be and what position would you say best suits his skill set?
AR: I have watched him play all of 15 competitive games, but I think he could be an MLS-caliber starter by 2020. His ultimate ceiling? Too hard to really project that at this point, frankly. And like I said before, I think he has skills to be versatile, but I’m skeptical he’ll be a center back in MLS unless he bulks up and his body holds up to the physical play in the middle. Chances are he’ll remain a fullback but perhaps he’ll get some run as a midfielder in the future, too.
Much thanks to Alicia for her insight on one of Orlando City’s newest additions. It will be interesting to see how many minutes the youngster can get and where James O’Connor plays him on the pitch. To find out more about Moutinho’s time with LAFC, check out Alicia’s season review of his rookie year.