Chris Mueller once again played the role of super sub this past weekend, coming off the bench to spark a comeback against the Colorado Rapids and earn the Lions their first home win of the season. Remarkably, Orlando City has seen at least one goal contribution from a substitute in every single game this season through week six, notching two goals and five assists in total.
James O’Connor came into the season with confidence in the way he has built his new squad, especially from an attacking standpoint. The Irishman had previously lamented his lack of forward options last year, only really having Dom Dwyer and Stefano Pinho to turn to at forward and forcing the likes of Chris Mueller and Josué Colmán into the position when short-handed. With a busy off-season of recruiting, aided by newly appointed Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, who took over general manager duties from the departing Niki Budalic, O’Connor now has twice as many out-and-out strikers at his disposal with the arrival of Tesho Akindele from FC Dallas, first-round draft pick Santiago Patiño, and Homegrown Player Benji Michel.
The improvement in depth has allowed O’Connor to rotate his front line more effectively as hurdles began to crop up. Dwyer came into the season carrying an injury and despite playing in all six games he has only started in three as his minutes continue to be carefully monitored. That hasn’t curtailed the American’s contributions however, as from the bench he got an assist against New York City FC, a goal against the Chicago Fire and another assist, albeit an MLS-credited secondary assist, against the New York Red Bulls.
Rotation also hit Designated Player Nani early on after he arrived at the end of the preseason and barely had time to train with his new teammates. However, he still managed to make an instant impact as a substitute in the season opener, tallying a secondary assist on the equalizer. Colombian rookie Patiño made his professional debut from the bench in Orlando’s 3–1 loss to Montreal, registering an assist in stoppage time as he held off two defenders before prodding the ball into the path of an onrushing Dwyer.
Perhaps the biggest talking point, however, has been Chris Mueller, who has now produced as a substitute in back-to-back games, completely swinging the momentum of the game in Orlando’s favor.
Against D.C., O’Connor made a double substitution at 2–0 down in the 59th minute, introducing both Sebas Mendez and Mueller for Uri Rosell and Sacha Kljestan in an attacking change to try and get something out of the game. Four minutes later, Mueller floated a cross to Dwyer who nodded it home with ease but City came up short.
This past weekend, O’Connor held off until the 80th minute to bring on Mueller with the score at 3–2 and the crowd chanting “We want Mueller!” The 22-year-old netted his second goal of the season a minute later to set up the late comeback. After the game, O’Connor was asked about the decision to not start Mueller following his impressive performance the week before:
“We just felt that there was potential for Chris to be able to come off the bench and impact the game like he has. When you have a weapon like that and you look the way the game may go or may not go, the big decision for us is do we start him?”
He’s not wrong. Mueller plays at a very high tempo and the last thing tiring defenders need is that type of player coming on an hour into a game and consistently testing them out on the wing, and beating them before pumping in a cross.
But there’s also the feeling that Orlando got away with one this time. The Lions have been behind in all four home games this season, with the latest of the four opening goals coming in the 14th minute. Planning game-changing substitutions in such a way relies on the game not being out of reach before you make the switch. With the team’s propensity for having to consistently chase games instead of playing on the front foot, it makes leaving your better players on the bench a risk of coming into the game too little too late.
Should Mueller be used as an impact sub when defenders are fatigued or should he start, potentially leaving the team with fewer proven scoring options off the bench? Vote in the poll below and have your say on whether you like Mueller more as a substitute, starter, or something in between.
How do you think James O’Connor should be using Chris Mueller?
This poll is closed
Nailed on starter every week.
Impactful super sub.
Rotated depending on the opposition.
Other (let us know in the comments!).