The spine of a soccer team usually refers to the core players, often those positioned in the center of the field. In watching Orlando City’s run through the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, it really stood out to me that Orlando City has a new spine, and it is a big reason for the improvement of the club. Let’s take a look from the back to the front.
The obvious place to start is with the Lions’ new keeper, Pedro Gallese. The Peruvian is a major upgrade for a club that’s always had serviceable goalkeepers but never a top-tier keeper for MLS. In the match against Inter Miami CF, Gallese never had to make an official save as the opposition only managed eight shots total and only one on target. Even at full stretch, Gallese never had a chance to stop Juan Agudelo’s goal.
In the second match against New York City FC, Gallese was called upon to do more, and so he did. Gallese made four saves as NYCFC took 26 shots, with seven on target. Jesús Medina’s golazo from outside the box wasn’t being stopped by any keeper on the planet.
In the last match against the Philadelphia Union, the opposition mustered 12 shots, with four on target, and one goal. Like the other goals conceded, Ilsinho’s goal was not really on Gallese, as it was simply an incredibly placed shot. For a more in-depth look at this goal, check out Michael Citro’s excellent breakdown of the play.
It’s no secret we like “The Beefy Swede,” Robin Jansson. He’s been a fan favorite since he got to town thanks to his willingness to do anything, including sacrificing his body to play defense. Now we’re seeing why Óscar Pareja likes him as much as we do. Jansson has taken command of the back line and the defense this season. Things should only get better as his working relationship with Gallese and Antônio Carlos develops. Against Inter Miami, the defense had 22 clearances. They added 12 clearances and four blocked shots against NYCFC and another 21 clearances and three blocked shots against the Union. The stats back up the eye test, as I thought it was the most organized the defense has looked in MLS. Much of the credit can go to the new leader, Jansson.
Continuing up the field we come to Uri Rosell. Rosell made himself a Man of the Match contender for his play against Inter Miami with three tackles, one clearance, and one interception. He also had an 87.5% passing rate on 70 passes. He is a veteran and a steadying presence in the defensive midfield. While his outings against NYCFC and Philadelphia weren’t quite as good, they were still incredibly consistent.
Júnior Urso had a slow start in the first two matches but really seemed to find his form before getting a knock 15 minutes into the match against Philly. I think it speaks to what Pareja sees in the player that he was given the time to adjust. Sebas Méndez has done well when replacing either Rosell or Urso and has given Pareja the luxury of a good substitute.
As we move up the spine we come to Mauricio Pereyra. Pereyra has been the linchpin in the Lions’ offense. He is pulling the strings, creating chances, delivering balls to attackers, and generally being the player we all hoped we’d get. Indeed, he got his own hockey assist by feeding the ball out to Nani, who chipped it back in for Pereyra’s header to draw Orlando City even against the Union. There have been many times when Pereyra has been the best player on the pitch, and that’s with Nani in the match.
Forward to Be Named
What about Dom Dwyer, Tesho Akindele, Chris Mueller, or Nani? For me it is simple, “The Money Badger” and Nani play best outside in. While they are definitely key players, I’m not including them as a part of the spine, and that is all right since arms are also very important. Dom still has yet to do Dom things, and I don’t know that he’s going to be a part of this club next season, now that he’s in the final year of his contract. As for Tesho, he’s done well, but is he your first choice striker if Orlando City can sign a bigger fish?
So, for now the final piece or pieces remain absent. Luiz Muzzi and Óscar Pareja have started to really put together the parts of this club, including the spine, and I’m enjoying the results. Let me know what you think in the comments below.