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Orlando City’s Options for Replacing Sebas Mendez

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With a Mendez suspension looming for Saturday, Oscar Pareja has some options even if Uri Rosell isn’t quite ready to return.

MLS: Orlando City SC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City could be a bit shorthanded in the central midfield on Saturday afternoon when the New York Red Bulls visit (4:30 p.m., FOX). It’s not a great time for that, as the Red Bulls are scoring goals in bunches again, with eight in their last two matches in a pair of 4-1 victories over Inter Miami and Montreal.

The Lions will be without Sebas Mendez, who took a pair of foolish yellow cards on Sunday night at FC Dallas. Mendez will be suspended for this weekend’s game, leaving the team looking for a replacement.

The ideal replacement would be starter Uri Rosell, who has missed the past few games with an undisclosed injury. Rosell has played well throughout the 2020 season for Head Coach Oscar Pareja and has been a key to the Lions’ success. Pareja said after the Dallas game that the Spaniard is getting closer to a return, although he is certainly still a big question mark for this Saturday, having not played since Sept. 5.

“Uri is getting much better. We’re hoping to have him in training very soon,” Pareja said. “He’s doing some specific jobs and I think Uri is going to be ready, but I cannot assure that it’s going to be for the next one. We’ll see. It’s a long week that will allow us to analyze the status.”

Rosell isn’t the only Lion who is getting closer to a return, but again, that doesn’t mean Orlando will get healthy reinforcements in time for Saturday.

“The same with Antonio (Carlos). Antonio is much better,” Pareja said. “He’s recovering quick. Joao (Moutinho) is coming on schedule but we feel that Joao will be sooner than we thought.”

If Rosell is unable to go, Pareja has a few options. He could change shape and/or insert Andres Perea into the starting lineup next to Junior Urso. Perea is young, and at times inconsistent, but he could fill the role. The Colombian has made 14 appearances in 2020 for the Lions, with three starts. In 444 minutes, Perea has attempted five shots and has registered a pair of assists. However, he doesn’t offer the same tenacity in winning the ball back as Mendez.

Another option would be to turn to rookie Joey DeZart. The New Jersey native and Wake Forest product has appeared in only two MLS matches to date, for just 16 minutes, but he has looked comfortable, and even played a part in Orlando’s fourth goal in the Lions’ 4-1 win over Chicago. DeZart could be one of the players Pareja was speaking about when he said Sunday night that there are Lions who have prepared for their turn in the lineup.

“The guys who are coming in the lineup lately are doing a great job there in sustaining the idea and identity of the team,” Pareja said. “And we will do the same now without Sebas. We have players waiting for an opportunity.”

DeZart has shown promise as far back as the preseason and the No. 31 overall pick has earned his minutes more quickly than one would normally expect from a second-round selection.

Another option might be to give Homegrown Player Jordan Bender a look. Bender has made the bench for Orlando City the last two games, although he has yet to make his MLS debut. His presence in the match day lineup over the past two games could be an indicator that he’s gaining Pareja’s trust. A first MLS start against the Red Bulls would be a big moment for Bender, who has only had a few competitive matches this season with OCB.

Finally, the Lions could give Urso a more defensive assignment rather than his preferred box-to-box role and drop Mauricio Pereyra deeper to take up the box-to-box duties. This could pay dividends in the attack, with Pereyra’s offensive instincts sure to make him a threat on late runs and he’s a much more clinical finisher than Mendez and Urso, although he’ll always look first to set up a goal rather than score one himself.

Regardless of which approach Pareja takes in replacing Mendez in the lineup, the Lions seem to have multiple viable options and the team isn’t going to let the Ecuadorian’s suspension slow things down.

“We have players that have prepared and are ready to play,” Pareja said. “So, we decided from the first day that we have no excuses, and this is part of the journey.”