With so little time left in the 2019 MLS regular season, so many people are looking to the pitch, players, and staff to see who is stepping up, and who isn’t. I honestly do not think there is a player on the first team that is not playing for the purple, the crest, the city, and the fans; however, some players have found their feet, while others, through any number of reasons, just have not.
With the season so close to coming to a close, here is who I hope I see step up in the remaining minutes to make that final impression on everyone.
I know what some are thinking: “hey Bearded Guy, what do you mean Ascues needs to step up?” Well, give me a moment and hopefully this will all make sense. Carlos has become one of my favorites this year. I was very worried about how well he would do with the transfer of Yoshimar Yotun last season, as the two of them had a very dynamic partnership when on the pitch together. I can say that Ascues proved me very wrong this season. Although he has not been the most consistent player by any means. I think that he has grown much more confident in his play, while playing with the current group of players as the season has progressed. His level of play has also been more consistent, and you can see that he understands his role and is actively pushing to fulfill the position the coaching staff has asked him to fill. He has also become a much better box-to-box midfielder this season. He has one goal and one assist this season in 1,087 minutes for the Lions, and has been very solid defensively the last half of the season. Is he perfect? Absolutely not, but he does show a level of football acumen that is growing and I certainly hope he gets more minutes to show it.
Higi is so much more that a fan favorite, and the last of the original Lions. Cristian is an absolute force in the middle of the pitch. Sidelined for way too much of this season with injuries, Higuita has played only 584 minutes this season. However, we shouldn’t forget the two assists he has, as well as the > 85% passer rating in those minutes. He is always a physical force on the pitch, and at only 25 years old, he is in a theoretical prime. I don’t think that anyone will question just how hard he plays for the club, but I do have doubts about how injury prone he could be moving forward. Trust me everyone, every word of that previous sentence was tough to write, but it is my current truth. Hopefully Higi gets to start, and finish, the remaining minutes of 2019, play as hard and as fast as we know he can, and show that this season’s knocks were just that, unfortunate knocks this season that are not foreshadowing (or jinxing) anything moving forward. Unfortunately, he’ll miss next week’s game on yellow card suspension.
Shane O’Neill and Alex De John
Seeing new center backs take the pitch as the season closes is not a good thing, so the chances of this happening would mean that someone has picked up a knock. That being said, the Lions will need some solid backups for what appears to be the CB pairing of Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson moving forward. With ~780 minutes and ~400 minutes, respectively, these boys might be stepping up behind the closed doors of training and practice as opposed to match day. De John saw some time off this season dealing with concussion protocol but appears to be free and clear with no lingering affects. We may not see it during the remaining minutes, but I will be scouring the training videos for glimpses of these two and hope to see them both pushing themselves to greatness.
Strikers have slumps. There is no doubt about the fact that strikers are streaky creatures and it would seem that Dom has been stuck in one for almost all season up until the last two games. His minutes are down this season, although his appearances are on par with last year. He currently has seven goals and three assists as compared to last seasons 13 goals and zero assists. Strangely enough, his shots per minutes played are up but his percentage of shots on goal are down. Another amazing little tidbit: this is the first season in Orlando’s MLS history where the top five goal scorers for the club are all forwards. Previous seasons have been dominated by midfielders (Kaká, Yoshi, Kevin Molino). That should equate to Dom, a Designated Player, battling for the top spot with the club’s other DP forward, Nani. The current goals leaders for the club are Nani with 12, Tesho Akindele with nine, and then Dom with seven. I am certainly hoping Dom can state his case and keep this recent rhythm going through the season’s end.
There are even more names that I could have brought up, but at first glance of the first team roster, these names jumped off the page to me. This is by no means a criticism of their dedication or commitment to the color and crest they play for. This is just a desire I have to have them prove me right. I firmly believe that all of the players above have a place as Lions next season. I simply hope that they get the opportunity to prove my assumptions correct.
What are your thoughts on players you would like to see step up in the remaining minutes of 2019 and why? Let us know in the comments below.