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Sebas Méndez: Orlando City’s Midfield Metronome

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The Ecuadorian has set a record-breaking pace in his debut season with Orlando.

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City midfielder Sebas Méndez will be missing when LAFC comes to town next week, away on international duty with Ecuador. The 22-year-old has 10 senior international caps to his name, including two at this summer’s Copa América. While the midfielder is away on international duty, what exactly will the Lions be missing? In short, they’ll be without one of the best passers Orlando has ever seen.

In his debut season in purple, Méndez has averaged 67.7 passes per game. Not only does this lead the team, but it is also good enough for the 12th-most across the entire league. The previous season-long team best was Yoshi Yotún’s last season average of 64.7 passes per game. Prior to that, the past club leaders were Yotún again in 2017 (58.7), Luke Boden in 2016 (48.4) and Darwin Cerén in the inaugural 2015 season (59.8).

Raw passing numbers are not the only significant stat Méndez is setting a new record in. The midfielder currently has a 90% pass completion percentage — best on Orlando. The figure also puts him in the top 10 of the league, sitting behind Darlington Nagbe, Jonathan dos Santos, Ozzie Alonso, Diego Chara, Matías Vera, Eriq Zavaleta and Sebastian Lletget in eighth. Only the LA Galaxy’s dos Santos makes more passing attempts than Sebas. The team’s previous best was again set last season with Uri Rosell completing 88.3% of his passes. Previous season leaders were Servando Carrasco in 2017 (87.6%), Tommy Redding in 2016 (84.6%) and Amobi Okugo in 2015 (87.6%).

Méndez is not only completing a record number of passes but he is doing so on a record volume of attempts. And if that isn’t impressive enough, he’s shown he isn’t a one-trick pony. The Ecuadorian has also made a name for himself as somewhat of a midfield destroyer, refusing to be beaten easily and showing up strongly in the defensive stats. He ranks second on the team for successful tackles per game with an average of 2.6, behind only Cristian Higuita, while also averaging 1.6 interceptions per game — again good enough for second on the team after Lamine Sané.

Although Méndez has stood out, he still has competition for his spot. Carlos Ascues has put in some strong performances recently, earning him a recall to the Peruvian National Team for the first time in over three years. Higuita nears full fitness again after recovering from an injury that has kept him out for the last 12 weeks. Will Johnson is also having a resurgent year, not to mention Rosell’s reliability when called upon in his 13 league starts this season.

James O’Connor has a glut of good options in central midfield at his disposal but with the ship now steadied, O’Connor needs to take the next step. Latest signing Mauricio Pereyra was brought in as an attacking midfielder and has looked promising during his first appearances of the season. It’s no secret that Orlando has struggled for goals in 2019 and a lot of that has been down to chance creation. With the Irishman so used to rolling out three defensively-minded midfielders, that looks set change, decreasing the amount of opportunity at Orlando’s deepest position.