As part of our Season in Review pieces for the 2020 season, I wrote Andres Perea’s piece, breaking down how he fared during his first year in Orlando. The most surprising thing to me was finding out that the then 19-year-old played in all but one of Orlando City‘s games last season, missing only the final of the MLS is Back tournament. Granted, some of those appearances were only limited minutes during the final stages of games, but it’s still striking.
The notable thing about Perea last year isn’t just the amount of minutes he played, but the context in which they were played. Remember, he was brought in on a one-year loan with an option to buy from Colombian side Atletico Nacional, with only 15 appearances under his belt. While he had played for the Colombian U-17 and U-19 teams, there wasn’t an abundance of evidence of what he could do on the field at a high level — thus the one-year loan deal. His minutes weren’t going to come easily either. He had to compete with Junior Urso, Sebas Mendez, and Uri Rosell to get on the field; and while injuries to Urso and Mendez reporting for international duty in the fall made things a little easier at times, nothing was guaranteed.
The best facet of Perea’s game at the moment is the defensive work he does in the middle of the field. He’s got good speed and stamina, is a capable tackler, and his positioning is usually pretty solid for a player that’s so young. His passing can stand to get better, and his finishing needs to improve, but those are both extremely fixable qualities.
The most exciting thing about him is just how much damn upside he has. He only turned 20 last November, and has shown himself to be capable of holding his own in one of the more challenging positions on the field. The fact that Gregg Berhalter went out of his way to recruit the youngster to represent the United States — inviting him into camp back in December when he wasn’t even eligible to play — should tell you a bit about how he’s viewed.
Perea certainly has the opportunity in 2021 to build on the foundation he laid last year. He’ll likely be on the roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament, providing valuable experience at the international level that he can bring back with him to Orlando. A year of off-season training and his body simply continuing to develop should better prepare him to deal with the physical nature of life as a defensive midfielder. The biggest leap he can make is offensively, as I touched on before with his passing and finishing. He passed the ball at an 82.3% clip during the regular season, which isn’t bad but has some room for an increase. Finishing-wise, he took 16 shots and only put two on target, so that rate can definitely be improved upon.
The gains in those areas don’t need to be particularly dramatic either. Urso paired absolutely tenacious midfield play with two goals and three assists in the regular season and a goal in the playoffs. Just that small bit of offensive contribution made him one of the team’s better performers on the year, with his grade of 6.5 in his Season in Review piece reflecting that. If Perea can chip in a similar number of goals and assists, while improving his passing, he’ll be a very attractive candidate for the starting XI, and his young age means he’s got time on his side when it comes to developing those lacking parts of his game.
For my part, I hope he does take that next step in 2021. It’s always nice to see a young player succeed, especially one who sort of flew under the radar to begin with. Plus, with Urso on the wrong side of 30, it doesn’t hurt to have some young blood capable of stepping up and shouldering a larger burden. The opportunity is there for Perea, now he just has to seize it.