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Orlando City’s Success Depends on Health of its Designated Players

When the Lions’ top two stars, Nani and Mauricio Pereyra, are fit and flying, they’re among the best in MLS.

Inter Miami CF v Orlando City SC Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Much has been made about Orlando City’s lineup woes throughout the season. There have been injury crises across just about every position group, with key players missing huge swaths of game time. Even now, Sebas Méndez, Uri Rosell, and Alexandre Pato are still out of the lineup. But of all the absences Orlando has had to deal with, none loom larger than Nani and Mauricio Pereyra.

Orlando’s two Designated Players have played this season, but not as much as anyone would like. Nani has missed four games and played 64% of available minutes, while Pererya has missed five matches and has only played in 57% of available minutes. Both players dealt with two-match red card suspensions at different points early in the season and have picked up varying knocks, meaning the amount of time they’ve played together is even lower.

Across 21 league games, Nani and Pereyra have played together 12 times, spending 804 minutes on the pitch together (42.5% of available minutes). More often than not, Orlando’s two most dynamic playmakers aren’t sharing the field, and that is making a tangible impact in games.

I looked at how Orlando City has played with and without its DPs and it’s a noticeable drop-off. In games when both Nani and Pereyra play together, Orlando is 7-2-4, good for 25 points at 1.9 points per game over 13 matches. On that PPG, Orlando would move up two spots in the Supporters Shield race, just fractions beneath Seattle and New England.

In contrast, when only one or neither DP is playing, Orlando drops firmly to the middle of the pack at 2-2-4 — just 10 points at 1.25 PPG. If that were stretched out for the whole season, Orlando would be battling for the last playoff spot in the East, alongside Atlanta and Columbus.

It seems redundant to say a team needs its best players to play in order to succeed, but it’s pivotal in a league like MLS. Because of the way rosters are set up, depth is limited and quality depth is almost non-existent, especially without an elite academy. For Orlando, nobody can replace Pereyra. With Andres Perea — who’s also injured — or an out-of-position winger like Nani in the number 10 role, that vastly changes what the Lions can do. Pereyra allows Orlando to play with the ball so much better, he improves transitions much better, and he’s so much more creative than anybody else would be in that role. Nani’s importance would be completely redundant to state, but it remains true that nobody is even close to his level of production right now, with his 15 direct goal involvements (nine goals, six assists). Pereyra sits second with nine direct goal involvements (one goal, eight assists), just ahead of Tesho Akindele’s eight (three goals, five assists).

The current state of injuries for Orlando City is an absolute disaster. Eight players, including seven key starters and both DPs, were on the most recent injury report, and while some of those guys did play against Miami, it’s a dire situation. Orlando is comfortably above the playoff line, and even with injuries should be able to stay afloat, but without the team’s top players, especially not being available at the same time, don’t expect the best performances or even the best results for a while. MLS is a grind, and Orlando City is feeling that right now.

If there’s good news, both Nani and Pereyra are listed as “questionable” rather than straight up out, meaning there’s a chance they’ll be good relatively soon. With those two in the lineup, Orlando can beat anybody in MLS and the Lions a favorite for MLS Cup, but if they can’t stay in the lineup, it could be a disappointing fall.