The past few weeks have not been great for Orlando City. After a huge run of three wins in six days, the Lions have just one win in their last five, including three losses. Outside of the win over Philadelphia, Orlando has been struggling to generate consistent offense and hasn’t looked like the team it was in late June.
Coming off the back of an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to New York City FC, things don’t look great for Orlando City right now. It’s not all terrible, as the Lions sit in the top half of the Eastern Conference and are competing even without several key players. The best thing for Orlando is that those players are coming back into the fold.
Against New York City, the pacey Ruan made his return after a months-long injury. His return does so much for this side. First and foremost, Kyle Smith can get some rest. The Accountant has been a warrior for this squad, playing every single minute of every game up until halftime on Sunday. With Ruan back and Joao Moutinho looking as healthy as you can expect, it gives the Lions both of their first-choice fullbacks for the first time this season.
With those two, the Lions finally have some offensive punch from their outside backs. While I and most Orlando fans have praised Smith, he adds nothing offensively. Ruan, by contrast, is a true overlapping threat who is as fast as anyone in MLS. He doesn’t actually produce all that many goals, with seven assists in two-plus seasons with Orlando, but he adds a dynamic element on the right flank.
He’s an aggressive ball carrier who can progress the ball out of the back, he can combine with the wingers, and he always gets himself into good crossing areas. He just doesn’t usually have the final ball. Having that threat also opens things up for the wingers and other creative players. Defenses have to respect Ruan’s speed, giving more half-spaces for the likes of Nani and Chris Mueller to operate in. And the threat of Ruan getting in behind often keeps opposing fullbacks from bombing forward, which helps Orlando’s defense as well.
Orlando City is at its best when the fullbacks are dynamic offensive weapons. Aside from Ruan being back, Moutinho also looked more threatening going forward against NYCFC. Adding offensive production from deep will make things easier for the forwards and things will be better for this team in the coming weeks.
Ruan isn’t the only player coming back into the fold for Orlando. Fellow Brazilian Alexandre Pato looks to be coming back, and that would be the perfect addition for this team right now. It should be noted that Pato’s injury situation is still unclear. While he has been moved to questionable on the injury report and has been seen in training, there’s still no knowing when he’ll actually be playing games. His original injury report said three to six weeks and that was 12 weeks ago. With that in mind, I feel comfortable speculating that the former AC Milan star will be available in the coming games, and that does a lot for Orlando’s attacking unit.
Heading into the match with Atlanta United on Friday, Pato would be the only real center forward on the roster if he’s on the team sheet. Both Tesho Akindele and Daryl Dike are away at the Gold Cup, while Matheus Aias and Derek Dodson are out on loan. Pato gives the Lions a more natural option in that spot, and is arguably the best of that group regardless when he’s on his game. His only match so far in MLS, funnily also against Atlanta, he looked great as the game wore on, particularly combining passes or taking players on the dribble. Pato is a super skillful player who adds something completely different to the forward line. If he’s healthy, Orlando has a real goal threat at striker, something it hasn’t really had since the Gold Cup started.
Things might be going somewhat awry, but Orlando City is on the up and up. With Ruan and Moutinho back in the lineup, one of Orlando’s biggest strengths is back. If Pato can make his return, Orlando gets a dangerous and skillful striker who could get them goals. These are things this team has lacked the last five games, and heading into August, Orlando’s much closer to its best, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the Eastern Conference.