One of the key areas of concern I had about Orlando City’s roster entering 2018 was a noticeable lack of quality depth behind Dom Dwyer at striker. It was a discussion we had on The Mane Land PawedCast and the team’s lack of depth was a bit scary. That area was never addressed last season and it still appears to be a problem entering the 2019 MLS campaign.
Orlando went into 2018 hoping Stefano Pinho could step up his game from the NASL level, where he won a Golden Boot in Miami. Dwyer picked up a quad injury in preseason that kept him out of the first three matches of the season. The Brazilian said he was ready to replace his MLS All-Star teammate if needed in the opener during his productive preseason.
Indeed, Pinho as the primary backup for Dwyer seemed to be an outstanding gamble when he snatched a point at the death against D.C. United on opening night, lifting a 10-man Lions squad to a 1-1 draw. However, things unraveled from there and he finished the season with just two goals and no assists in 23 appearances.
Pinho himself picked up an injury less than a half an hour into Game 2 against Minnesota United and was out for a couple of matches. Behind Pinho the club had rookie Chris Mueller and teenager Josué Colmán to fill in, although neither was quite suited for the role. The Lions failed to score in the next game and Dwyer returned for the fourth match, when he scored twice in a 4-3 thriller against the New York Red Bulls.
The Lions always seemed one Dwyer injury or unnecessary card away from disaster. And, inasmuch as the entire season was a disaster in retrospect, maybe it didn’t matter all that much. Or maybe a suitable replacement could have turned the tide with a timely goal occasionally in 2018. There’s no way of knowing, really.
What we do know is that the club hasn’t fully addressed the situation entering 2019. And, sure enough, Dwyer has picked up another preseason knock —
this time a hammy again with the quad (h/t Jordan Culver). Apologies for the hammy remark. Got it here:
Couldn’t ask for better training conditions for @OrlandoCitySC @Ddwyer14 not participating. Out 2 weeks with a hamstring injury. Expected to be back in time for season opener. pic.twitter.com/Ek0TmrEUuE— Joe Kepner (@JKepnerWFTV) February 5, 2019
Can’t trust those TV guys. ;)
While he’s not expected to miss the opener, Dwyer only served to once again point out the lack of suitable MLS-ready depth on the squad. Orlando City did acquire Tesho Akindele in the off-season but the former FC Dallas talent has a career high of seven goals and that came in his rookie season of 2014. His numbers have dropped virtually every season since then. While it’s true that he’s not been used primarily as a traditional striker, that could be because the Canadian has been found wanting in that area. Whatever the reason for his productivity drop, he doesn’t seem to provide much of a security blanket for Dwyer’s absences due to injury or his penchant for collecting yellow cards.
The other two replacements on the roster are rookies — Santiago Patino, who was drafted No. 3 overall in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, and Homegrown signing Benji Michel. Both will be entering their rookie season, so neither has a track record of MLS success. Other than that, it’s Mueller and Colmán in the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency spots.
It’s a dicey way to enter an MLS campaign. Dwyer is already nursing a knock and his three primary backups have a combined six MLS goals over the last two years — all by one guy. Yet, here we are again. Certainly the salary cap situation isn’t conducive to signing a quality backup. Strikers, after all, are pricey. The club has also has been prioritizing addressing a bigger need — namely, attacking midfield / wing players. But even that hasn’t really panned out so far and is another ongoing concern.
There is still time before the season starts to address some of these needs, but time is running short with only a few weeks left until the opening kick.