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2021 Orlando City Season in Review: Sebas Mendez

The Ecuadorian midfielder was a defensive force in Orlando’s midfield this season.

Orlando City SC v New York Red Bulls Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

Defensive midfielder Sebas Mendez is coming off of his third year with Orlando City after signing with the club on Dec. 28, 2018 from Ecuadorian club Independiente del Valle. Although injuries and international duty with Ecuador limited his availability, Mendez was effective when on the field for Orlando. Let’s dive into how Mendez performed this season for the Lions.

Statistical Breakdown

Mendez started in 15 of his 17 appearances during the regular season, playing 1,193 minutes to help Orlando reach the playoffs again. He played every minute of the club’s six-game unbeaten streak to start the season as he filled in for the injured Uri Rosell and, due to his play, he eventually took the position away and made it his own.

The Ecuadorian midfielder was incredibly efficient when passing, completing 91.5% of his 964 passes this year. He was also accurate on 53 of his 82 long ball attempts for a strong 64.6% success rate. Mendez scored his first goal in MLS on Decision Day against CF Montreal and it was the only one of his eight shots that was on target. He didn’t have an assist but recorded five key passes.

Defensively, Mendez won 29 of his 43 attempted tackles (67.4%), while also providing 25 interceptions, 15 clearances, and five blocked shots. He committed 27 fouls and was shown seven yellow cards in 2021.

The 24-year-old started and played 80 minutes in Orlando’s 3-1 playoff loss to Nashville SC. One of his two shots in that match was off target while the other was blocked and he finished with a tackle and two interceptions.

Best Game

Mendez was consistent throughout the year, but his best game came in a 2-0 win against Montreal on Decision Day. Orlando needed a result on the road in order to reach the postseason and Mendez gave his team the lead after a scoreless first half. His first goal as a Lion was a thing of beauty as he embraced his inner Nani and curled a shot from outside the box into the top right corner.

Mendez’ first goal as a Lion was backed up by the kind of vintage performance he’s become known for since joining Orlando as he completed 47 of his 49 passes for a fantastic 96% success rate. He also helped out defensively with a tackle, two clearances, and a block as the Lions earned a clean sheet.

In a do-or-die match following an emotional 1-1 draw against Nashville after a disallowed goal, Mendez provided the team with stability and a crucial goal. Although he wasn’t named Man of the Match, Mendez was given a strong 7.5 rating in our player grades from the match.

2021 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff landed on a 7.5 out of 10 rating for Mendez this season, an improvement from the 6 he was given last year, as well as in 2019. Mendez was a crucial part of Orlando’s game plan when on the field as he broke up plays defensively and was an efficient passer. The Ecuadorian is often the straw that stirs the drink for Orlando, connecting the back line to the team’s offensive weapons and winning possession. His aggressiveness and breakup play was missed in Orlando while he was injured and while he was away in South America for the Copa America and World Cup qualifying. It was a strong year from Mendez as he developed into the team’s best defensive midfielder.

2022 Outlook

Mendez will be back in Orlando next season as the club exercised the option on his contract. He overtook Rosell’s position on the team this season and will be the team’s starting option at defensive midfielder as Rosell returned to Sporting Kansas City. The Lions would do well to sign him to a new deal as they did recently with Ruan. At just 24 years old, Mendez has been consistent for Orlando and still has room to grow. While we shouldn’t expect many more goals like the one he struck on Decision Day, he may have more surprises in store as his skill and awareness develops.

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