In the 1-0 road win over the Montreal Impact, Oscar Pareja deployed a starting 11 that perfectly portrayed the diverse age group at the club. The likes of Daryl Dike, Benji Michel Andres Perea, Sebas Mendez, and Kamal Miller all started on the night and are 23 years old or younger. The other six players deployed from the get-go were at least 27 years old, providing an impressive balance of experience and youth in the side. Interestingly as well, almost every position was well-balanced in terms of its age too.
The two most attacking players, Dike and Tesho Akindele, are 20 and 28, respectively. Further back, central midfielders Mauricio Pereyra and Mendez are 30 and 23. The only position where both players were each 27 or older was sensibly and predictably in central defense, where Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson are 27 and 28. Other than that, however, it was quite remarkable how nearly 50/50 it was in terms of seasoned players and younger ones from the first whistle.
Pareja striking such an equilibrium in the upcoming fixtures and playoffs could be key to the Lions progressing deep in its first postseason. Furthermore, such a diverse age group could also help the Lions continue being a consistently tricky challenge for whichever club plays them.
Possessing players such as Nani, Pereyra, and a number of other “old-timers” can provide an element of stability seeing as they have played a great deal of soccer in their lives. Whether or not the older players are leaders, young players could look to them for guidance and there is no shortage of model professionals at the moment for Orlando.
On the flip side, the youth add an element of unpredictability on the field. Whereas the long-serving players may use their copious understanding and experience in the game to their benefit, the younger players have an advantage that they may not be as thoroughly studied by other teams yet. For example, individuals such as Dike are brand new to the scene and such a rapid rise to stardom can leave opposing teams wondering what on earth they’re supposed to do to stop such a force they have not yet reckoned with.
Having a squad that is too young can lead to extremely entertaining and unpredictable matches. Unfortunately, however, teams that are too youthful often lack leadership and stability. Contrarily, an overly seasoned side can be too formulaic and not as erratic when needed.
Balance could very well be the key for Orlando. A mix of veterans and youngsters may provide what I would call “unstable stability.”
Through heavy roster rotation this season, Pareja has provided chances to the up-and-coming players while also keeping the senior figures involved. Based on the road win against Montreal yesterday, the chosen symmetry of age appears to be a good decision.
The Lions face the Columbus Crew at home on Wednesday and it will be fascinating to see if a similar balance is deployed against the side currently ranked third and level on points with Orlando.