When you think of Orlando City, a handful of players likely jump to mind first. Nani, Chris Mueller, and now Daryl Dike are the faces of this team. The highly visible contributions of goals and assists that the trio provided during Orlando’s successful 2020 season ensured that they got lots of accolades and visibility, and rightly so.
While they’re certainly important players for OCSC, one of its most valuable players is one who isn’t often talked about all that much. Whether or not Uri Rosell is able to stay healthy and on the field is going to have a big impact on the team’s fortunes during the upcoming season.
Orlando City has a pretty big stable of defensive midfielders, and they all excel at different parts of the game. Junior Urso is a powerful box-to-box-type player with an ability to chip in a goal here and there. Sebas Mendez is very good at shielding the back four and acting as a midfield destroyer, with Andres Perea having a similar skillset while having a better range of vision and passing. Rosell is a combination of all three though, particularly Mendez and Perea.
The Spaniard is typically employed as the deepest lying midfielder, and is asked to win the ball back and then transition the team from defense into attack, while staying in position to break up any counterattacks. It’s a job that he does exceedingly well, particularly when it comes to his ability to cohesively link OCSC’s back line to its attackers and facilitate offensive possessions from deep.
The job that Uri is asked to do is not a flashy one. If performing well, he typically won’t stand out during the course of a game; but if he’s off his game or isn’t on the field, then he’ll be conspicuous by his absence. While he isn’t the fastest or most physically gifted player on the field, he possesses a very good ability to read the game, and his passing is among the best on the team. His 2020 totals of 89.3% passing accuracy, 20 interceptions, and 35 tackles point to a player who is often in the right place at the right time to win the ball, and who typically takes care of it once he has it. Hell, his lowest passing percentage of the season was 78.7%, with all the rest of his totals coming in at 85.2% or higher, which is, quite frankly, a little absurd.
With its current stable of players and what we saw last year from them last year, the team is probably at its best when Urso, Uri and Mauricio Pereyra are starting and each player is able to primarily stick to his strengths. Urso is asked to do the bulk of the running, harass the opposition, and use his physicality to win the ball. Rosell stays deepest, playing a combination of short quick passes and longer ones (of which he had 59 last season) to seamlessly get the attack moving after winning the ball. Pereyra will press forward with the ball and look to play passes in behind to the attackers, and generally be a positive force in the attacking third.
After playing in Orlando’s 1-1 draw with Atlanta on Sept. 5, Uri was unavailable through injury until the team’s first match of the playoffs, and it showed. While the Lions only lost two of the 13 matches they played while he was injured, if you watched those games the team looked different than the one we saw earlier in the season. The overall quality of the Lions meant that they were still able to get results, and at times played some very attractive soccer. However, OCSC didn’t consistently resemble the free-flowing, attack-minded team that it was from June to August, even though it was still capable of scoring goals. Part of that can also be attributed to the absence of Pereyra for almost all of October, but not having Rosell to link the two halves of the team made a big difference.
That’s largely because, as briefly touched on earlier, Orlando doesn’t really have another guy who can do what Uri does at the level he does it. Mendez, Urso, and Perea’s best attributes lie elsewhere, and while Pereyra certainly possesses the passing ability of the 28-year-old Spaniard, deploying him so far from the offensive third would severely hamper Orlando’s attacking creativity. Its possible that one of the trio of Joey DeZart, Jordan Bender, and David Loera can develop into filling that role too, but as of now Uri is the Lions’ one and only there.
That means that OCSC needs him healthy during the upcoming season, plain and simple. He was only able to play in eight league games in 2020, although he also appeared in all four knockout games at the MLS is Back Tournament and both playoff games. Keeping him healthy could be tricky though, with Orlando already slated to play in the Leagues Cup and potentially the U.S. Open Cup, while also losing some of its players to international duty. But if he’s able to avoid the injury bug and play consistently during 2021, expect him to be a vital if underrated part of any success that the team has this year.