Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Orlando City signed Alexandre Pato a little over a month ago. On the face of things it’s a good move, especially since it wasn’t a Designated Player deal, and reportedly didn’t require much, if any Targeted Allocation Money. Now that he’s here though, the question is: what can, and should be expected of him during his first year in purple?
That’s not the easiest question to answer. For one, Pato is a player who has battled injuries throughout large parts of his career, which can sap any player’s abilities. For a guy like Pato, who at his peak was renowned for his pace and athletic ability, the effects of injuries can be even more pronounced, and a series of muscular issues from 2010-2012 were the impetus behind his departure from AC Milan. Since leaving Milan, things have been better though, and his scoring and assist numbers reflect that.
Pato had particularly good stints with Sao Paulo from 2014-2015 and Tianjin Quanjian from 2017-2019. He bagged 19 goals and nine assists for Sao Paulo and 30 goals and six assists while in China per Football Reference. His numbers in China are particularly encouraging, although five goals in 20 appearances during a return to Sao Paulo from 2019-2020 isn’t quite as good a record.
Regardless, those numbers seem to suggest that he’s still capable of contributing offensively, whether that’s by putting the ball in the back of the net or setting up his teammates. Having been without a club since August of last year likely affected his fitness, but hopefully being able to go through a full preseason with Orlando City will help build back any strength and stamina he lost.
The tricky thing is, it’s difficult to accurately evaluate Pato given that he doesn’t have a ton of recent games to go by. The last time he played a competitive match seems to have been July 29 of last year, and earlier I mentioned that he only scored five goals in 20 games during that second stint with Sao Paulo. However, it’s worth noting that before the pandemic started he had a run where he scored four goals in three games, in some of the last appearances he would make for the club. That’s definitely a good sign, it’s just a question of whether or not he’s retained that sharpness.
Potentially making his start to life with the Lions easier is the current striker situation. Daryl Dike was the presumptive starting striker prior to Pato’s arrival, but with Dike on loan at Barnsley until the end of May, Pato will likely be the favorite to lead the line, although Tesho Akindele and Matheus Aias will certainly want to stake their claims. If/when Dike returns, it will make that situation more unclear, but until then he could have roughly a month and a half to adjust to the style of play in MLS and start knocking in goals.
All of those things taken into consideration, I think it’s reasonable to expect the Duck to adapt fairly well to life in Major League Soccer. He seems to still have the scoring touch and will be surrounded by talented attackers in Nani, Chris Mueller, and Mauricio Pereyra, which should help him. Even if he doesn’t start consistently, he should be able to provide a good attacking spark off the bench, and recent numbers seem to suggest that he still knows where the net is.
At the very least, expect the new signing to provide depth at striker, winger, and potentially even attacking midfield in a season where Orlando will compete in MLS, the Leagues Cup, and potentially the U.S. Open Cup as well. Predicting exact numbers is always a risky business, but I think if he manages six or seven goals he should be considered a success. If he eclipses that number then chalk him up as being a damn bargain, especially if he chips in a few assists along the way.