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Orlando’s Role Players Must Help the Offense

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As we hit the midway point of the year, Orlando City’s role players need to make a bigger impact than they have in recent weeks.

MLS: Inter Miami CF at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This has not been the best couple of weeks for Orlando City. Since the start of July, the Lions have won twice in eight games and have had disappointing results against multiple Eastern Conference bottom-feeders, including Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati last week. The recent string of performances is definitely not due to the play of Orlando’s stars. Nani has maintained his MVP pace, tied for the league lead in combined goals and assists, while Mauricio Pereyra has started hitting his stride, controlling the tempo of most games, and flashing his elite vision — all while the defense continues to do a good job, even while battling injuries.

The one real inhibitor for Orlando City in recent weeks has been the play of the other offensive pieces.

The supporting cast — the likes of Benji Michel, Chris Mueller, and Tesho Akindele — have failed to deliver much of this season. That’s a little harsh, but especially over the last month or so, it’s fair. Michel had a great stretch of games earlier this season, but looked lost or plain ineffective in recent games. In his last seven games, he’s scored just once and outside of the Atlanta game — where his finishing was quite poor — Michel’s barely made an impact, with very few shot attempts, let alone quality chances.

Akindele hasn’t scored since June 22 and has only had more than two shots in a game twice all season, with the last such game coming back in May. Mueller, who I defended multiple times this season, has taken several steps back since his mini heater back in June.

These three players — you can throw in Alexander Alvarado and Silvester van der Water into this group as well — are vital to Orlando’s offensive production. Nani is a match winner and Pereyra is great, but they can’t always do everything. Last year, Mueller was the other star, producing at legitimate Best XI levels. Nobody outside of Nani is even close to that level, and it’s showing in the results. If the captain is having an off night or resting, Orlando is completely toothless offensively. Mueller and Michel haven’t been striking fear into the opposition. If there’s one dynamo in this crop of players, it’s van der Water, but his lack of fitness has limited his availability, and he’s as inconsistent as Michel.

To compete for trophies, the top entire unit has to be goal dangerous. A team like the Columbus Crew last year, who won MLS Cup, had their top stars Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes, but also had quality contributions from Luis Diaz, Pedro Santos, and others. Last year, Orlando had that pretty consistently, especially thanks to Mueller. When the Lions were on the fringes of the Supporters Shield race earlier in the season, these complementary pieces were thriving.

Nani can — and has — almost single-handedly keep the ship afloat, but when will he get help? It’s too late for any outside additions, so it’ll be up to this group to give this team a lift, although the return of Daryl Dike or (dare we say?) Alexandre Pato might help. With another competition starting this week, the need for quality depth offensively is that much higher.

Perhaps Oscar Pareja could go even deeper down the roster to find that spark — Wilfredo Rivera maybe? — but he shouldn’t have to. We’ve seen Tesho be a 10-plus goal a season forward, Mueller can be an All-Star level winger, Michel can add that extra offensive punch and be a real goal threat, but none of them are particularly clicking. Perhaps with the return of Dike from the Gold Cup, which, granted, Tesho is also just back from, the offense will find its feet and everything will fall into place. But regardless of who’s available or not, the collective has to do its part to push Orlando City to a title challenge.