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Matheus Aias Could Be the Second Striker Orlando City Needs in 2021

After failing to make a mark in a short 2020 stint, newcomer Matheus Aias could make a big impact in his first full MLS season.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Montreal Impact Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When Dom Dwyer went down with an injury during the MLS is Back Tournament, Orlando City was left in a bind at striker. The only other options at the number nine were Tesho Akindele, who’d had a career year in 2019, and rookie Daryl Dike. While that rotation worked well for the tournament, as the team reached the final, the Lions knew they needed more bodies up top for the regular season.

To address this need, Orlando City acquired Brazilian Matheus Aias from Watford. It took quite a while for Matheus to get involved with the team however, as he didn’t make an appearance until late October despite signing in August. It wouldn’t be fair to judge his performance based on four cameo appearances, the longest of which was 11 minutes, so the test of his value begins now.

Matheus was not brought in as a short-term stopgap. He was brought in on a two-and-a-half-year contract and is still only 24. With Dwyer out the door, Akindele coming off a disappointing season, and Dike having under 1,500 professional minutes in his career, Aias will be expected to play a big role in Orlando City’s near future, but can he deliver?

Matheus didn’t come to Orlando with a particularly impressive resume. Most of his short career has been spent on loan in the lower tiers of Spain, with most of his game time coming with Granada’s second team and, more recently, CD Mirandes. While he was technically under contract at Watford in England’s Premier League, he never made an appearance for the Hornets. Despite the low profile, his goal-scoring prowess was respectable albeit a little underwhelming, with 46 professional goals across 153 games — although most of those were scored in the third tier of Spain.

His resume isn’t particularly impressive, but that doesn’t mean he can’t thrive in Major League Soccer. This is a very weird league and a big part of that has been stars coming from odd places. Last season, two of the leading scorers in the league had resumes arguably less impressive than what Matheus has accomplished. Kacper Przybylko was a complete unknown who did very little in the lower leagues of Germany before scoring 15 goals for the Philadelphia Union in 2019, and Heber of New York City FC was a star in the largely unknown Croatian league before scoring 15 goals of his own. Resumes can be overrated, as long as a player has ability and is put in the right situation to succeed.

If you’ve seen the highlights of his impressive Copa Del Rey run last season, you know he has at least some quality, so the question remains, can Orlando be an environment he thrives in?

With (hopefully) a full off-season to adjust and acclimate to the team and MLS, he’ll be in a position to make an impact. Orlando City doesn’t have a great record when it comes to younger international signings, with Young Designated Players like Josué Colmán and Bryan Rochez failing to deliver anything in purple, but these are different circumstances.

Unlike those two, Matheus isn’t occupying a DP slot (or the expectations that go with it) and is a much more experienced player. He should have a better grasp of professional football. It’s also important to note that this current Orlando team is in a much better space, thanks in large part to the presence of Oscar Pareja as manager. Pareja is not only a good coach who has a winning pedigree, he has an impressive track record of developing young talent, both domestic and from abroad.

Orlando City has long struggled at the striker position, and while Dike has become the surefire starter, the depth is still a big question. The hope is that Matheus will be the long awaited answer as a backup striker, and a potential starter when Dike needs a break, is on international duty (should his upward trajectory continue), or if the youngster gets sold. We don’t yet know if Matheus will succeed in MLS, but if he can, it’ll go a long way in assuring this past year’s success wasn’t just a fluke for Orlando City.