Orlando City’s first choice fullbacks are Joao Moutinho on the left, and Ruan on the right. Full stop. Much has been written about Ruan’s game-breaking pace, ability to beat his man in 1v1 situations, and all the qualities that he brings to the table. Luiz Muzzi rightfully signed him to a contract once his year-long loan was over at the end of the season, and his second year as a Lion will hopefully be even better than the first.
Joao Moutinho didn’t win perhaps as much praise as his Brazilian counterpart last season, but he’s equally important to this team. He’s a fantastic crosser of the ball and is usually solid with his positioning and defending in 1v1 situations. The main problem with both players, Moutinho in particular, is the time that they aren’t able to be on the field.
Ruan played 25 games in the league last year out of the 34 possible, starting 23 of them. Moutinho meanwhile, played in 16, starting in 15. It’s rare for a player to appear in every single league game, especially when that player is asked to do the amount of running that the two fullbacks are; but they both also battled injuries during 2019.
Between hamstring, quad, and calf injuries Moutinho was sorely missed during the games that he was unavailable for selection. He offers a threat crossing the ball from wide positions that no other Orlando fullback was able to replicate last year, and given the team’s lack of a central creative force last year, his absences were all the more glaring.
While Ruan was mostly able to avoid injuries last year, he found himself simply in need of nights off so he could rest. During the summer months in particular he looked like he was being run ragged after a blistering start to the year that saw him appear in a string of games where he was constantly motoring up and down the right flank.
When one or both players were unavailable for selection their absences were made all the more glaring by the fact that the team didn’t really have comparable players to come in and replace them. Danilo Acosta always seemed a step off the pace in the few games he played, Kamal Miller is probably at his best at center back, and while Kyle Smith did a solid enough job deputizing, he simply doesn’t have the attacking ability that Ruan or Moutinho do.
As far as this year is concerned, the situation at fullback isn’t terribly different than it was last year. If anything, the Lions have less depth after Acosta wasn’t brought back. New acquisitions Antonio Carlos and Rodrigo Schlegel are center backs, and while Kyle Smith is back, that’s where the true fullback pool ends for the Lions, barring a late signing.
With Mauricio Pereyra having had more time to settle into his surroundings Orlando should carry more threat through the middle of the pitch than the team did last year, and hopefully won’t have to rely so much on good things happening out wide, which was the case in 2019.
Regardless, Moutinho and Ruan are an integral part of the Lions’ best 11 players, and if this team wants to finally break the playoff barrier this season then it desperately needs those two to be healthy and on the field as much as possible.