Depth is something that the Lions have always claimed to have, but has never really materialized. With the grueling nature of road travel in MLS, teams playing through international breaks, and just needing guys to fill in, this may honestly be one of the few times in its MLS history that Orlando City truly has depth, not just bodies that can fill positions, but actual depth. And this depth might be in positions that would surprise you even further.
Orlando might be sitting on its deepest defensive squad to date. Sure, we could debate how well some of the players have played so far this season, but guess what folks? The Lions are currently 1-1-2 in open league play, and look to be improving on a weekly basis. The defense is going to play a very big part in just how high the Lions can run in the Eastern Conference this season.
Let’s take a quick look at the squad in the following categories:
So who can the Lions leverage currently as a solid center back? I give you the following names as players:
- Kamal Miller
- Alex De John
- Robin Jansson
- Shane O’Neill
- Lamine Sané
I mean, that is not a bad group of CBs to pull from, especially after the addition of Jansson. He certainly stated his case for a starting role in every match with his performance in his debut during the away game in New Jersey. With Sané recovered from injury, it is looking more and more difficult to pick a back three, if Head Coach James O’Connor continues to put forward a 3-5-2 formation.
Where do I begin with this? The list below is of players I would put forth into the defensive midfield spot:
- Cristian Higuita
- Sebas Mendez
- Uri Rosell
- Dillon Powers
Sebas Mendez has shown himself to be able to fit nicely in the spot formerly held by Yoshimar Yotún. I believe it his spot to lose. The question then becomes who do you slot with him? Uri was very impressive last match, and we all know and love Higuita. It could become a difficult choice at central defensive midfield as the season moves on, but one that I think is welcome.
Now this might be where the club gets a bit thin:
- Kyle Smith
- Danilo Acosta
- Joao Moutinho
The club is officially sitting on two players each on the right and left sides. Health will be key, as will be rotation, to keep these players all healthy and viable for selection week after week. The wings have been key so far this season for the Lions, and wide play has been one of the shining stars of the new Lions to date, as well as any number of other MLS squads as teams maintain a high press with a tight formation that makes working the ball up through the middle very difficult.
Then we get to the list of players that can fill multiple roles across the defensive third of play:
- Carlos Ascues
- Will Johnson
Regardless of your feelings for the two names above, they will be integral to the squad moving forward this season. Ascues has already shown throughout his time with the Lions that he can play across multiple positions across the back line very successfully, including sacrificing the body to maintain the lead (please revisit the goal line clearance from last match). Will is just a neverending ball of energy, meme aside. He leaves everything on the pitch, and is a valuable starter and substitute alike.
It is still a bit difficult to say anything is “for sure” after only four matches, but the puzzle pieces are starting to fit together a little bit better. The Lions and the front office worked hard this off-season to fill some glaring holes and so far, so good, but we all know how long this MLS season is going to be. Orlando City has typically come out of the starting blocks on fire, then crashes and burns like Icarus on his maiden flight in the summer doldrums. One of the biggest issues of the many that the club has had, has been defense. This could be the best collective group yet, but only time will tell.
What do you think of the defensive players and shape to date? Do you want to see something other than the 3-5-2 that has worked very well so far? Let us know in the comments below.