With the signing of Alexandre Pato and Silvester van de Water, plus Daryl Dike making strides at Barnsley, much of the attention this preseason has been on the Orlando City offense. I understand that being a focus, as one of the things Orlando City needs to address before the new season is scoring more goals. Our own Michael Citro outlined how the Lions are looking to be more lethal in front of goal in 2021.
Last year, the Lions’ defense was an area of strength for the club, and while I think it will be again, I don’t want anyone taking it for granted. I think that Óscar Pareja takes it seriously, but there are potential pitfalls for the defense in 2021. Let’s take a look position by position.
Pedro Gallese is a top five keeper in MLS. He is the undisputed starter for Orlando City, and will continue to be that, except when away on international duty. One of the bad things about really good players is that they are in demand, and sometimes aren’t available due to international duty. Pride supporters are all too aware of this phenomenon. Still, there are times when he will be away, which is why Orlando City brought in Brandon Austin from Tottenham Hotspur FC. We’ve yet to see Austin in action, but I have confidence that he will be a very capable backup for Gallese.
Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos are arguably the best center back pairing in Orlando City history (maybe not arguably?), and the Swede and the Brazilian have the potential to be even better this season now that they have had more time together. We also know that the very capable Rodrigo Schlegel is there to back them up. After that, things get a little more dicey, but given that we’re looking at a more normal schedule this year, the Lions’ central defense is in good shape.
Ruan is back on the right side and will be the first choice starter. His speed and tenacity pose problems for opposing clubs, and I’m willing to bet his defensive play will be even better this coming season. The problem is on the left side. João Moutinho will likely miss the first part of the season as he comes back from hip surgery. Pareja has said that he is doing well recovering and could potentially be ready by the opening match, but I would be surprised if he wasn’t held out for at least three to four weeks once the season begins.
The club had acquired Jonathan Suárez to fill in for him, but we all know the circumstances that led to his no longer being with Orlando City. With the departure of Kamal Miller, Kyle Smith is next man up. The Accountant, as he is known, very capably filled in last season for Moutinho despite being right footed. Smith can also fill in behind Ruan, but he can’t do both at once. As such, fullback is still a position of need for the Lions.
Orlando City signed Michael Halliday to a first-team contract as a Homegrown Player but, like Ruan and Smith, Halliday’s natural position is on the right. Pareja has stated that the club is looking to the academy to see if a player is ready to bring up to fill in while waiting on Moutinho. Owen Guske, Thomas Williams, and Daniel Rosario have all been mentioned as possibilities. How any of these players integrate this preseason, and how quickly Moutinho’s recovery goes will determine what this position looks like come opening day.
Pareja’s tactics lead to nearly everyone being involved in the attack, and having responsibilities on defense, but I wanted to point out that the defensive midfield is in great shape. With Uri Rosell, Junior Urso, Andres Perea, Sebas Mendez, and Joey DeZart, the Lions have plenty of options. I expect that we will see a good rotation of players, and effective play at the front of the defense.
That is how I see the state of the defense currently, but as we’ve seen this off-season, things tend to change weekly if not daily. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.