Yesterday The Mane Land’s Scott Carnevale gave you guys the lowdown on which Orlando City players you should keep an eye on during the upcoming MLS is Back Tournament. Today, I’m here to elaborate on the player I believe is the most important when it comes to Orlando’s midfield running smoothly: Sebas Mendez.
Scott astutely pointed out the Ecuadorian’s ability on the ball and his skills when it comes to defending, and for my money the latter quality is what makes him so crucial to the Lions’ midfield.
In the two games Orlando has been able to play in 2020 the team lined up in a 4-4-2. But with the return of Nani from suspension it’s unclear what type of formation Oscar Pareja will deploy his first choice XI in. What is a safe bet, however, is that Mendez will be included in that XI more often than not. With players like Mauricio Pereyra, Nani, Chris Mueller, and (to some extent) Junior Urso asked to do a lot of the work creatively, it’ll be left to Mendez to pick up some of the less glamorous work in midfield. The ability and willingness of the 23-year-old to do that grunt work will be a primary factor in the functionality of the midfield.
One of OCSC’s biggest problems last year was an inability to create attacking opportunities in the final third. Oftentimes, if good things weren’t happening with either Nani or Ruan, the Lions had a tough time getting looks at goal. The addition of Pereyra should help take the pressure off those two, and even more so if Benji Michel and Mueller continue to grow and improve. In theory, once the team has time to gel, creativity won’t be a problem this year. However, all that creativity will be for naught if the Lions ship goals left and right — which is where Mendez comes in.
Sebas had a pretty good first year with the club in 2019. He proved himself to be a capable passer with a 90% accuracy and also averaged 2.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions. While his effectiveness did seem to tail off a little after a particularly impressive start to the year, some of that can probably be attributed to the Lions’ roster situation last year. With Cristian Higuita often injured, Will Johnson asked to fill a utility man-esque role, and James O’Connor seemingly not having much faith in guys like Sacha Kljestan and Dillon Powers, Mendez was asked to do more and more as the season continued and he wasn’t always up to the task. With that being said though, I think the right reinforcements have been brought in and the team now has enough capable midfielders to allow Mendez to thrive in his best role.
That role will involve a lot of work in defensive midfield, shielding the back line and linking the back four to the creative forces in attacking midfield. Essentially, Sebas will be relied on to put in tackles and win the ball in midfield as a physical presence, thereby allowing the team’s creators like Nani and Pereyra to thrive without needing to worry too much about tracking back defensively. If it’s a job that Mendez is able to perform well then it should free up the attacking midfielders to do their best work. While Urso will probably be tasked with some of those defensive duties as well, he’s more of a versatile box-to-box type of midfielder at present and I think you can expect to see more of him in attacking areas than Sebas.
I think it’s something that he’ll be able to do well. As young as he was last year, he still showed plenty of promising flashes of the player he’s capable of becoming. Now that he has the right type of players around him and he’s being coached by someone with a reputation for getting the best out of his defensive players, I think that he’s got a good chance of becoming the essential player that Orlando City’s midfield needs to run smoothly.