As has been the case for a couple years now when the Ecuadorian national team has fixtures, Sebas Mendez has been called up to represent his country. He will be with the team until at least June 27, Ecuador’s final group game of Copa America, and potentially longer if the team can manage to avoid finishing last in Group A and qualify for the knockout stages.
In soccer, absence of one player means opportunity for another. In this case, one of the direct beneficiaries of Mendez’s time away could be Andres Perea. In preseason I spoke about how Perea had a chance to expand on the good work he was able to do during the 2020 season, and with Mendez now likely away until at least the first week of July, there are opportunities to be seized. Perea hasn’t had a bad start to 2021. He’s played in all seven of Orlando City’s games, starting two of them, logging 316 minutes, putting his one shot on goal and passing at an 85.2% clip.
However, he’s been second choice in the midfield behind Junior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra and Mendez, with one of his starts coming alongside Sebas in place of the suspended Pereyra against Sporting Kansas City, and the other again coming alongside the Ecuadorian when he was asked to deputize for the suspended Nani in a more attacking role against the New York Red Bulls. His substitute appearances have come in relief of more attacking players, whether it’s been coming on for Tesho Akindele, Silvester van der Water (both once) or Pereyra (three times).
It seems that Oscar Pareja views Mendez as the superior “number 6” style of defensive midfielder, and prefers to bring Perea on for attacking players when trying to protect leads, as in his 70th-minute entrance for Pereyra against D.C. United. Papi seems to think the young Colombian-American is more suited in a box-to-box role similar to how he was asked to play when replacing Akindele at halftime against Atlanta United. Personally, I think that may well be where his best position is. Perea was asked to do more defensive work last year and did a fairly good job of it, but Pareja has already spoken about the value he can bring to the attack, and he showed it during the Atlanta game.
The trouble for the youngster right now is that the people ahead of him in midfield are playing well. Pereyra should be either the first or second name on the team sheet when he’s healthy, Mendez is a very good defensive midfielder, and Urso is off to another good year, having already bagged a goal and playing very well as the team’s box-to-box midfielder. That hasn’t left a ton of chances for Perea, which is why he’s only made two starts, but with Mendez gone, the chance is now there to grab his minutes.
Complicating matters for the young man, however, is some very welcome news for Orlando City fans: Uri Rosell is healthy again.
It’s been a big year for Sebas, who is battling for that starting spot for Ecuador.— Julia Poe (@byjuliapoe) June 10, 2021
Notable for the Lions — Uri Rosell is fully integrated back into training, which is important with Sebas unavailable at DM for most of June. https://t.co/ZPbF9puJYP
Not to keep tooting my own horn here, but Rosell offers a skillset that no one else really does at the moment for Orlando City. His return means that Perea slotting in for Mendez is far from cut and dry, especially since, as we established earlier, Perea is probably more suited for the “number 8” role rather than being an out-and-out defensive midfielder. With that being said, Rosell also isn’t likely going to immediately jump into playing the full 90 minutes, so Perea should have his chances, even if they don’t come at his favored position.
Regardless, you have to take your opportunities when and where they appear, and the next few weeks should give Perea more of a platform to show what he’s capable of. It should also provide us a bit more clarity on where Pareja believes his best position is, whether it’s as a defensive or box-to-box midfielder, or even as a more offensive facilitator. It’s now up to Andres to grab whatever chances come his way.