Orlando City has been getting good performances out of its key players much of 2021. Nani is on the cusp of the MVP conversation, Antonio Carlos is a frontrunner for Defender of the Year, and even Chris Mueller’s slight down season sees him at a healthy 0.75 combined goals and assists per 90 minutes. Of Orlando’s core group of players, one has noticeably regressed; Mauricio Pereyra.
Last season, the Uruguayan playmaker unlocked something Orlando City had lacked since the days of Kaká — a legitimate central creator. Pereyra ranked among the best creative attacking midfielders in the league, among the upper echelons for shot-creating actions, key passes, expected assists, and assists per 90 minutes in 2020. Thus far in 2021, his impact has been felt far less.
Statistically, the drop-off isn’t too significant, particularly in underlying numbers. Stats for key passes, expected assists, and shot-creating actions are all roughly the same as they were in 2020 for Pereyra. But what those numbers don’t show is the overall lack of influence he’s had on the game.
More than just providing the final ball or the pass before that final ball, Pereyra is a weapon in build-up play, with the intelligence and skill to get Orlando out on the break. This is where both the eye test and stats show a noticeable decline for Pereyra, especially with the ball.
The No. 10 attacking midfield position is asked to do a lot in terms of ball progression. Most of the current MLS leaders in progressive carries and carries into the final third are attacking midfielders, including New England’s Carles Gil, who leads both carries by some distance. Pereyra was never as involved carrying the ball as Gil, but he did provide that a little bit for Orlando, with almost four and a half progressive carries and two successful dribbles per 90 minutes in 2020. Those numbers have both evaporated to less than one successful dribble and only three progessive carries per 90 minutes in 2021. Even if he was never as dynamic with the ball as other elite playmakers, he was serviceable in that role, but right now he just isn’t.
The same goes for his goal scoring. Pereyra is pass-first almost to a fault in the final third and needs to be a more goal dangerous player, but has been even less aggressive this year. His shots and shots on goal per 90 minutes are the lowest they’ve been in Orlando City colors and I can’t remember a time this season he looked particularly threatening in front of goal. Again, that’s never been his game, but it’s worse than ever.
The only thing Pereyra’s producing right now is ok creative numbers, but even those aren’t at the level of other Designated Players in his position. Compared to the top attacking midfielders in the league, which Pereyra has shown to be at times, the Uruguayan’s numbers just don’t compare. I don’t want to make things seem worse than they are — he’s been dealing with injuries, has become the focus of more attention from Orlando City’s opponents, and has had one or two solid games, but it’s undeniable that he hasn’t been a DP-quality number 10 this season.
If Orlando gets the best of Pereyra, the Lions are one of the most beautiful and dangerous teams in MLS, but without their talisman in the middle pulling the strings at a high level, this team will have to do a lot of scrapping and fighting to compete for silverware.