The 2018 Major League Soccer season certainly was one that scarred many Orlando City fans and left most of us emotionally damaged. One of the very, very few bright spots appeared to be the August signing of Peruvian defender Carlos Ascues on loan from Alianza Lima. As the team was deep in the throes of an atrocious summer, any defensive help was sure to be a positive addition. Ascues had previously been used by his former clubs and throughout 21 appearances for the Peruvian national team as a defensive midfielder more often than a center back.
If there’s one thing the Lions were stacked on in 2018, however, it was guys who played the No. 6 role. Since Head Coach James O’Connor was still freshly appointed, he often altered his formations, tactics, and players, meaning Ascues saw the pitch four times as a defensive midfielder, four as a center back, and once as a left back out of desperation. In just those nine appearances, he managed 755 minutes, got off four shots with one on goal, held an 83.7% passer rating, and received two yellow cards. The left-footed 26-year-old consistently seemed confident and comfortable with the ball at his feet and really showed off his link-up abilities while sitting behind fellow Peruvian Yoshimar Yotun as the six. Ascues was quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to the hustle and heart he showed on the pitch as well as his impressive performances. The Mane Land awarded the new guy with a 6.5 grade for the 2018 campaign, pointing out that he “was easily one of the best defensive players the Lions fielded this season.”
Unfortunately, Orlando City cannot have nice things, so it completely stands to reason that Ascues would get hurt during the 2019 preseason and therefore have a shorter preparation time than most of his teammates. O’Connor had also stressed the importance of his first preseason in charge from the time he arrived in Orlando.
The Lions conceded three goals over the first two matches of the 2019 season. With Ignacio Piatti’s Montreal Impact in town for game three of 34, Alex De John was dropped from the starting center back slot in a 3-5-2, and replaced with Ascues in a four-man back line.
After being on the bench for two weeks, Ascues finally saw his first minutes since the disappointing end of 2018. Fifteen minutes into Saturday’s 3-1 defeat though, he was probably wishing he wasn’t on the pitch as a back pass to his CB partner Shane O’Neill led to O’Neill’s awful back pass to goalkeeper Brian Rowe and then the Impact’s second goal in about a 90-second span. This occurred after a quite early giveaway by Ascues that led to the first chance of the afternoon for Montreal, and his slow closing down of Impact forward Orji Okwonkwo also contributed to the visitors’ first goal.
Thankfully, Ascues eventually settled into the match, but it remained apparent that the lack of playing time with the revamped Lions had hurt the chemistry and left Ascues with lot of rust to shake off. He looked good on the ball and did manage the third-highest passer rating, connecting on 81.6% of his 38 passes with five successful long passes. In a slight drop off from his 2018 overall grade, The Mane Land’s Andrew Sharp assigned Ascues a grade of 5.5 while stating “he was actually pretty assured and is undoubtedly Orlando’s best ball-playing center back.”
One definite positive was that Ascues lasted the full 90 minutes and gave the impression of being fully fit. Based on how quickly he assimilated into the team last season, it won’t take long for Ascues to build chemistry and regain his confidence now that he’s back in the starting 11. Be on the lookout for him to put together an excellent season and become one of Orlando City’s leaders on the pitch.