For the most part, Orlando City has had a good start to the 2021 Major League Soccer season. After 12 games played, the team has a record of 6-3-3 and sits in second place in the Eastern Conference. Two of those losses, however, have come in the Lions’ last two games, which obviously isn’t ideal. Two losses in a row is far from cause for alarm though, especially considering the injury situation that OCSC currently finds itself in.
To put it plainly, Orlando is currently struggling with injuries, and those injuries have occurred in the area of the roster where Orlando is the thinnest — the defense. Things were already bad enough when Ruan was injured during the Lions’ draw with New York City FC back on May 8, although Joao Moutinho playing the full second half after entering for the injured Brazilian mitigated things slightly. However, Moutinho then left the June 23 game against the San Jose Earthquakes in the first half, and has yet to make a game day roster since, with the same being said for Ruan. For the most part, Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith have ably filled in for the first choice duo, and having both Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson healthy and marshalling the defense certainly helped matters for Orlando’s back line.
Unfortunately, however, that came to an end two games ago when Carlos came off injured very early in the 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Carlos exited in the 14th minute, with Rodrigo Schlegel entering as his replacement, and the Lions weren’t quite the same defensively afterwards. It isn’t necessarily that Schlegel, Smith, and Halliday played poorly, although it’s fair to say that the team as a whole wasn’t at its best that night. Rather, it was more that a team’s back line can only sustain so many losses before the unit doesn’t function as well as a whole. Maybe more than any other area of the field, a defensive unit requires chemistry, and once you put in too many pieces who don’t play together regularly it will always make things more difficult.
Orlando is also still missing Alexandre Pato after the forward underwent surgery for a knee injury he sustained in the Lions’ very first game of the year. While Tesho Akindele has done a serviceable job of picking up the slack and Benji Michel and Chris Mueller have also started to contribute, the team simply doesn’t have a ton of pure striker options at the moment. We still don’t really have an idea of what Pato is capable of, but it’s never going to be a good thing when a team doesn’t have experienced options available when rotation or substitutions are needed.
Luckily though, Orlando’s immediate schedule might provide the opportunity for some relief. The Lions just finished a pretty brutal run of five games in 19 days, but now the men in purple will have 10 days without a game until they take on Toronto “on the road” (i.e. at home) on July 17. There’s no guarantee that OCSC will get any of its injured players back by then, but there’s at least a good sized window to work with. While not much is known about what has been ailing Moutinho (adductor pain is what Oscar Pareja said) and Ruan, or where they are in their recovery processes, it’s been confirmed that Pato has been training with the team and participating in contact drills so there is a possibility that he could be near a return. He has been upgraded to “questionable” on recent availability reports.
The final person that Orlando has been missing lately is Pedro Gallese, who has been on international duty with Peru at Copa America. With Peru’s final match taking place tonight, it’s likely that the Octopus will be available for next Saturday’s game against Toronto. Again, while Brandon Austin has filled in well for the Peruvian international, Gallese is simply a different class of goalkeeper and it’s never exactly a good thing to be without your first choice netminder.
To be clear, injuries haven’t been the sole factor in Orlando’s losses in the last two games. The team was sloppy both at home against the Red Bulls and against Chicago. In both games the Lions weren’t able to finish off some good chances that they created, while also being far too sloppy defensively, regardless of who was on the field. With that being said, OCSC’s mounting injury list certainly hasn’t been helping and while a 10-day break doesn’t guarantee that the injury situation will improve, it at least presents a window of opportunity.