Saturday’s performance against FC Cincinnati was one of Junior Urso’s best games in an Orlando City shirt. The Brazilian midfielder was a formidable box-to-box presence and scored the game’s lone goal on a perfectly placed effort from outside the box. The Bear even earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his play in Cincinnati. But that display was only the latest in a strong season for Urso and he’s one of the most important players in Orlando’s entire squad.
The Bear has logged 2,133 minutes across 26 matches for Orlando City this season — the most minutes on the team. The 32-year-old midfielder has been an ironman for a team in an injury addled season, especially in midfield. While Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell have been out for significant periods of time, Urso has only missed spurts of action. That has given relative stability in the box-to-box midfield role to offset the absences beside him. And the work he does in that role has been vital.
Urso is a valuable linking player both on the counter and in possession. He can spark a transition from the back or provide numbers in the forward positions, while actually being able to do something with the ball. He averages over four progressive passes and three key passes per 90, both top five in Orlando’s squad.
In the final third, he’s been one of Orlando’s better players, currently third in the squad with four goals. He’s also second in shots, with 39, though more middle of the pack in terms of shots per 90, with about 1.6. As a secondary runner or second option at the top of the box, those are good numbers.
Defensively, he’s not as dominant as a pure defensive midfielder, but he still contributes over three and a half tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes. He’ll never be mistaken for an elite defensive player, but that’s a decent defensive output considering his value in transition and the final third.
None of these stats are surprising. Urso was a great player last season and came to Orlando with a decent pedigree in the Brazilian first division. But what he’s doing this season deserves more appreciation. A good and dependable box-to-box midfielder is the type of glue guy who’ll often get overlooked on a team, but greatly influence how the team plays. When he’s missed time or has been playing with heavy legs, you notice it. Those are the games where Orlando’s midfield presence is really poor. More than any one stat, the ground he covers and the energy he provides gives Orlando an edge against most midfields.
Most of the plaudits for the Lions will go to Nani, Daryl Dike, or one of the defensive stars like Antonio Carlos and Pedro Gallese. But if it weren’t for Urso’s active and veteran presence in the middle, Orlando wouldn’t be a playoff-caliber team the last two seasons. And his recent run of great form, highlighted by the Cincinnati game, is just another reminder of the value the Bear has brought to Orlando.