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2020 Orlando City Season in Review: Mauricio Pereyra

The Uruguayan Designated Player showed what he could do in his second season in Orlando.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Attacking midfielder Mauricio Pereyra’s arrival created some excitement in a dismal 2019 season. However, the Uruguayan maestro barely got on the field last year due to nagging injuries after being signed on July 30 from Krasnodar on a free transfer. His vision on the field was immediately apparent but all we knew other than that was that he looked good with his hair dyed blond.

Let’s take a look at his first full season in Orlando.

Statistical Breakdown

After seeing the field just six times in 2019 for a total of 394 minutes, Pereyra managed 16 appearances (14 starts) during the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season for 1,107 minutes. He still missed a chunk of the year (five games) with what appeared to be a hamstring issue at the time of occurrence — the club called it an “undisclosed injury.” Pereyra scored his first two MLS goals in the regular season and added a team-high eight assists, attempting nine shots and getting four on frame. One of his two goals was the game winner on Sept. 12 vs. Inter Miami.

Pereyra completed 25 dribbles and created 33 scoring chances. Based on chance creation, his eight assists indicate that his teammates owed him a little better finishing in the final third. He was tidy in possession, passing at an 83.5% rate. On the defensive side, the Uruguayan contributed 16 tackles, 10 interceptions, four clearances, and a block. He committed 18 fouls while drawing 20, but his tendency to lunge to win a ball back after losing control earned him six yellow cards during the regular season — but no reds — and a suspension for Orlando’s regular-season finale against Nashville SC.

In the MLS is Back Tournament knockout stages, Pereyra started all four games, playing 344 of the 360 available minutes. He scored a goal in the MLS is Back final against Portland but did not earn an assist in the four elimination games, attempting four shots with one on target. He also made his penalty attempt in the shootout against LAFC on Orlando’s first shot. Across those four matches, Pereyra completed five dribbles and created seven scoring chances, with a whopping six of those coming against LAFC. His passing rate for the knockout games was 82.7%. He contributed five tackles and four interceptions, committed four fouls, drew five free kicks, and saw one yellow card.

Pereyra started both of Orlando City’s playoff games, playing 105 minutes of the 120 against New York City FC but only 60 before being sent off against New England, for a total of 165 minutes. He did not score or assist on a goal in the postseason, attempting two shots but getting neither on frame. He created five scoring chances (all against NYCFC), passing with 83.5% accuracy, and completed nine dribbles (eight against NYCFC). He stepped up his defensive game in the postseason, compiling seven tackles, an interception, and a block, and the 30-year-old committed two fouls, drew two fouls, and was shown one straight red card for a horror tackle from behind against New England.

Best Game

The Lions’ midfield maestro had several big matches in 2020 but I’ll go with his two-assist performance against the Columbus Crew in a 2-1 win on Nov. 4. The Lions spent most of the second half down to 10 men due to Nani being wrongly sent off.

Orlando City took a 1-0 lead when Pereyra pounced on a wayward back pass from Harrison Afful that was intended for Artur. The Uruguayan took possession and bypassed a covered Tesho Akindele right in front, instead finding the perfect place to send the ball — a wide-open Chris Mueller, who was making a back post run. Mueller settled the ball and scored to give the Lions a deserved lead and Magic Mo had his first assist of the game.

Columbus equalized in the second half just moments after Nani’s sending off. The captain was initially shown a yellow and then referee Ramy Touchan changed his mind and gave a red after watching the replay. Since the red card was overturned in the midweek, it’s hard to imagine what Touchan saw upon review that made him believe he’d made a clear and obvious error, but the Lions were down to 10 men and level at 1-1 with nearly the full second half to play.

But Orlando City stayed compact in a 4-4-1 formation, held the Crew to hopeful long-range shots and crosses from the wings, and found some opportunities to counter. The game seemed destined to end in a tie when Pereyra pulled a little more magic out of his hat. He sent a perfect long ball forward to Benji Michel in the 84th minute that led to the winner.

Michel headed the ball up and behind himself, then turned inside the Crew defense and won the race to the loose ball before slotting it home between goalkeeper Eloy Room’s legs in what turned out to be the MLS Goal of the Week Award winner.

Pereyra’s second assist of the match was just about his last contribution, as he was subbed off moments later for Joey DeZart. Oscar Pareja had been planning the sub for a few minutes due to the Uruguayan sitting on a yellow card, but luckily there weren’t any stoppages in play before Pereyra was able to send the ball forward to Michel.

In addition to his two assists in the match, Pereyra attempted one shot and completed 63 of 67 passes for a 94% completion rate. He created six scoring chances in the match, equaling his season high, set twice previously vs. LAFC and at FC Dallas. He also completed two dribbles, five crosses, three long balls, and a through ball and drew four free kicks while committing just the one foul for which he’d been booked. In addition, he chipped in defensively with a tackle and an interception.

It was a tour de force performance by the Uruguayan Designated Player when the Lions needed one. Orlando City clinched a home match in the playoffs and temporarily jumped over the Crew into third in the standings heading into the season’s final weekend.

2020 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Pereyra a composite rating of 7.5 for the season after he failed to qualify for a final season rating in 2019. Some staff members had him rated as high as an 8. I tend to think season grades that high and perhaps a half point higher should be reserved for MLS Best XI players. Pereyra was arguably Orlando City’s MVP for 2020 with his vision, ball control, and ability to pull defenders out of position and pick out the right pass to punish them for it. The club went 8-1-5 with a +13 goal differential in the 14 matches that he started.

However, he could look for his shot a little more often, which would make him an even more dangerous player, and he could stand to be a little smarter about making lunging tackle attempts in order to raise his grade next season. Still, a 7.5 for a midfielder is quite good.

2021 Outlook

Following the 2020 season, Orlando City signed the 30-year-old to a one-year contract extension on Dec. 1, that runs through the end of the 2021 MLS season.

“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.”

While Pereyra isn’t getting any younger or faster, it’s reasonable to expect a similar performance from the Uruguayan in 2021, provided he can avoid the injury issues he has suffered through the last two seasons. Not having so many matches so tightly scheduled as MLS had during this pandemic year would help save him some wear and tear, but a normal schedule also means more travel and more different climates in which to play. When healthy, Pereyra is as good as anyone in MLS at connecting the lines and sending attacking players into threatening positions. That shouldn’t change next year and Orlando will be better for it.

Previous Seasons in Review (Date Posted)

We hope you’ve enjoyed the 2020 Season in Review series, as we rated all players who saw action for the Lions during the most recent MLS campaign. The only rostered players from the year not covered were Josué Colmán — on loan all season and subsequently had his option declined — and Homegrown Players Michael Halliday and Mason Stajduhar, neither of whom made an appearance.