A busy news day continues as Orlando City has announced that Uruguayan midfielder Mauricio Pereyra has signed a one-year contract extension that will keep him in the City Beautiful through the 2021 MLS season. This comes on the heels of Orlando completing a deal to acquire on-loan center back Antonio Carlos on a permanent transfer and signing him to a three-year deal earlier today.
The Designated Player, who will turn 31 in March, was under contract through the 2020 season but the extension allows him to remain a Lion and perhaps exit the club in a more palatable way after his red card Sunday against New England had a major effect on the club’s first ever playoff run.
Pereyra officially signed with Orlando City on July 30, 2019 on a free transfer after he was out of contract with FC Krasnodar in Russia.
“We are very excited to have Mauricio continue with us in Orlando for another year,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He has shown himself to be incredibly creative and a driving force behind our attack. Mauricio is a very important piece on our roster and we look forward to seeing how he continues to elevate his game with the club next season.”
Due to fitness issues, he appeared in just six matches (five starts) in 2019, tallying 394 minutes. His season stats, per our 2019 season in review piece are as follows:
He didn’t score a goal but he managed three assists to tie for fifth on the team with guys who had played about a thousand more minutes than he did. The 29-year-old attempted only three shots, getting one on target. His passing accuracy was just 78% for the six games he played but that was not much time to get used to new teammates’ movement and in fairness, sometimes they just didn’t see the openings that he did. His 2.2 key passes per game was second on the team only to Nani’s 2.3.
Defensively, he averaged 1.5 tackles, 0.7 interceptions, and 0.3 clearances per match. He committed nine fouls, suffered five, and received one yellow card.
The veteran midfielder became a vital player on the team in 2020, appearing in 16 of the club’s 23 regular-season matches (14 starts), and playing 1,107 minutes. He scored two goals and led all Lions with eight assists. Always one to pass first, Pereyra attempted only nine shots, getting four on target. He was second on the club in chances created (38). He committed 18 fouls but drew 20 and was issued six yellow cards in 2020, picking up a one-game suspension that he served in the season finale. The midfielder also appeared in both of Orlando’s playoff matches, playing 165 minutes and attempting two shots.
Pereyra’s first goal came in the final group stage match of the MLS is Back Tournament against Philadelphia, when he beat Andre Blake in the 70th minute — just two minutes after Ilsinho had put the Union ahead. He also scored in the MLS is Back final against Portland, tying the match at 1-1 at the time, but the Lions were unable to prevent a winning goal by Dario Zuparic in the second half. Pereyra again quickly answered an opponent’s goal with one of his own on Sept. 12, scoring the game winner in a 2-1 home victory over Inter Miami just four minutes after former Lion Brek Shea had tied the game.
The native of Montevideo, Uruguay was twice named to the MLS Team of the Week in 2020 and was on the TotW bench on another occasion. Before joining Orlando City, Pereyra played in 154 games with Krasnodar from 2013-2019, scoring 24 goals with 24 assists. He made his debut with Nacional in his native city of Montevideo back in 2009 in a Copa Libertadores qualifier.
While with Nacional from 2009-2011, Pereya appeared in 45 matches, scoring three goals. He was sold to Argentinian side Club Atlético Lanús for $1.3 million in August of 2011 and went on to make 47 appearances with Lanús from 2011-2013, scoring three goals. A former Uruguayan youth international, Pereya earned 12 caps with his country’s U-20 side.
What it Means for Orlando City
Pereyra’s presence was vital to the club in 2020. With him in the starting lineup, the Lions went 8-1-5 with a +13 goal differential in 14 matches. Simply put, the team was better when he was on the field.
There were intentional plays this season where he would drop deep to pull a particularly stubborn midfielder out of position so he could spring the attack with a long ball. There are few players in the league with his vision, which was evident on a ball that sent in Daryl Dike for the game’s only goal in a 1-0 win against the Montreal Impact on Nov. 1.
With the club’s midfield maestro locked up for another season, the Lions can work on improving other areas — one of which is, ironically, a more effective backup for Pereyra. That player might turn out to be Alexander Alvarado, but we haven’t seen much of him yet.
Hopefully Pereyra can stay fit more in the season to come. A more normal match schedule would probably help with that. But the diminutive play-maker has missed time in each of his first two seasons in Orlando, and he can’t play those mesmerizing balls through the defense if he’s not on the pitch.
Orlando City has wasted no time securing its two highest off-season priorities of bringing back Pereyra and Carlos. That will provide Luiz Muzzi and Oscar Pareja more time to work on other business and it should make for an easier off-season for Lions fans everywhere.