When the MLSPA player salary dump was released yesterday, many Orlando City fans took a peek at what some of the Lions were making and questioned why a few guys were making good money but were hardly seeing the field. These were mostly newer additions — striker Matheus Aias and wingers Alexander Alvarado and Silvester van der Water — who haven’t seen many minutes since their arrival.
All three were seen as good signings in areas of need, but despite all of them making north of $200,000 salaries, they haven’t seen many minutes of game time.
During Friday’s pre-match press conference, I asked Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja what the three attacking players need to show him in training to earn more minutes on the field. Pareja said they’re all adapting to the system but they’re on different trajectories.
“We brought these players in, not not just to be in the bench, but to be decisive in the way we play, and players who can impact our game and get us better,” Pareja said. “Sometimes that takes some time, some adaptation. Also I understand it’s not the same for some players. They show you some characteristics in training but sometimes those guys need to play. What I can tell you is that they have been adapting to our system, to our model.”
He also said that there are different reasons for each of them not to have quite broken through just yet. For Alvarado, who has only one 13-minute appearance in 2021, it’s mostly a matter of playing the same position as someone else who is currently in great form and performing at a high level.
“(Alvarado) already accumulated a good amount of trainings and an understanding of what we need,” he said. “What happened is that Luis Nani is doing very good right now, and we wanted to keep that rhythm for now. And the competition is excelling among them. That’s the situation and they are playing well.”
Aias, a player in a position of need for the Lions at the moment, is getting more and more in the mix after suffering some fitness issues in preseason. He’s seen the field twice in the first four matches, but for only 15 total minutes. He has yet to start an MLS game since his arrival last fall and he hasn’t registered a shot attempt yet in 2021.
“Mati has been escalating last week as well,” Pareja said. “He had some difficulties in preseason. Now we try to get him back into the rhythm, get his fitness at his best level, and try to give him the best opportunity so he can succeed.”
Of the three attackers, the player who is most ready to take on a bigger role is van der Water. The Dutch winger has appeared in three matches, but for only a total of 25 minutes. He’s attempted two shots in his brief appearances.
“Van der Water, he has been adapting faster,” Pareja said. “I think he’s in the equation to make the (starting) team already, and I’m delighted to see it.
While it can be frustrating for fans who want to see the new guys as soon as possible, it’s common for players — especially young ones like Alvarado, Aias, and van der Water, who are 22, 24, and 24, respectively — to need some time to integrate with a new team. This is particularly true of a team that already has tremendous chemistry on the field like Orlando City developed in 2020.
But all three players are closing in on a time when they can not only see more of the field, but also perform at a high level and gain more confidence once they do.
“All in all (they need) just to adapt to the team, to the league, and I try to make sure to put (them on the field in) a good moment for them so they can have success,” said Pareja.