As the start of the 2019 Major League Soccer campaign neared, Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi and the rest of the front office staff had one more defensive signing up their collective sleeves. Robin Jansson, a 27-year-old Swedish center back who was coming off a championship season for Allsvenskan side AIK — his first season of top flight soccer — was the man Muzzi decided to add. Standing 6-foot-1 and looking like a stereotypical Norseman, the Swede might just be what Orlando City needed to finally have a consistently solid back line.
So far, it absolutely appears as though Muzzi’s instincts about the relatively unknown Jansson, who infamously was working in a horseshoe factory while playing on Swedish third-division club IK Oddevold prior to joining AIK, were spot on. Jansson was first eligible to play in the Lions’ Week 3 home match against the Montreal Impact, but went unused as a substitute. He then started the next week as the team traveled to take on New York Red Bulls, and has seen the full 90 minutes of every match since then.
In six of his seven matches in purple, Jansson earned an average grade of 6.58 from the staff here at The Mane Land. For the initial nine games of the 2019 season, Jansson was the highest-graded center back on the squad, and behind only left wing back Joao Moutinho (6.75) and right wing back Ruan (7.07) for defenders overall. In comparison, the next highest grade was awarded to former Bundesliga standout center back Lamine Sané (6.40).
Perhaps it is no coincidence then that Sané has quickly become Jansson’s partner in the middle of the back line. Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor utilized a three-man defensive line, with one exception, until the Vancouver Whitecaps came to town in Week 8. O’Connor rolled out a more traditional 4-3-3 with the club’s four best defenders, Moutinho, Jansson, Sané, and Ruan, anchoring the starting XI. That day, Jansson led the Lions with seven clearances, conceded no fouls, and made a huge interception on a Whitecaps through ball.
The boys then traveled to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for the second of two matches with New York City FC this year. Thankfully, O’Connor seemed to start understanding that consistency helps defensive lines gel and become better at playing together, and thus started the same four in the back from the Whitecaps victory. Jansson had a tackle, interception, blocked shot, and six clearances in the draw, earning a yellow card that The Mane Land’s JGlash pointed out was a product of referee Drew Fischer losing control of the match.
O’Connor lined up the same four again as the Lions returned home to take on the 2017 MLS champions, Toronto FC. The only match not counted in the average player grades for the first quarter of 2019, Jansson’s performance earned him a 6, the highest of the Orlando City defenders in the loss. JGlash rightly pointed out that he “proves time and again that he is here to try and make the difference for Orlando City’s back line.” Jansson managed a shot in the 36th minute, three clearances, an interception, and 91% passing accuracy on his 43 passes.
It’s safe to say that Jansson’s presence on the pitch has had a positive impact for Orlando City, the team that broke a record for most goals allowed in 2018. I fully expect him to continue to grow into the consistent back four and demonstrate the attributes he brings to the Lions even more as the season continues, providing O’Connor allows him the opportunity and resists the urge to change the starting lineup every match.