One week ago Orlando City announced the signing of 20-year-old Uruguayan midfielder César Araújo. The youngster signed a three-year deal and is Orlando City’s very first signing as part of the MLS U22 Initiative, which makes him a much more cost-effective signing and is a smart move by the Lions. Where will he fit into Orlando City’s midfield next year though? Let’s have a look at the state of things in the middle of the field for OCSC.
Sebas Mendez and Junior Urso are the entrenched starters in the center of the park, with Urso potentially in with a shout of being named captain. Urso played in 30 of the club’s 34 regular season games, starting 29 of them. While his legs were almost completely gone by the end of the year, that was likely more a function of being nearly the only consistently healthy midfielder during a brutal stretch at the end of the summer than anything else. When healthy and not on international duty Mendez was one of the first names on the team sheet and will likely remain that way in 2022. His quality was most keenly felt when Orlando didn’t have it for a lengthy stretch of games during the summer, so look for him to pick up where he left off.
Joey DeZart and Andres Perea are the two players sitting immediately behind Mendez and Urso. DeZart played 17 times in 2022, starting seven times. He was mostly solid but is a little bit lower down in the pecking order than Perea. The Colombian-born midfielder played in 27 games, starting 16 of them and even knocked in two goals and recorded an assist. Since joining the team ahead of the 2020 season he’s been leaned on fairly heavily as one of the first guys off the substitute bench when Oscar Pareja wants to make a change in midfield. He also started to add a new dimension to his game in 2021 with his two goals, something that Papi was likely very pleased by.
So, where does Araújo fit into all of this? He can play either central or defensive midfielder and with Uri gone the Lions need another capable body in that area. Araújo certainly seems to be capable, as he was named the Player of the Year for his previous club in 2021 and was nominated for the team of the year in the Uruguayan top flight. While he didn’t score and only had six assists across 63 appearances for the team, his selection as Montevideo Wanderers’ Player of the Year seems to suggest that he doesn’t have any problem impacting the game in other ways.
For my money then, I see him eventually settling in at or slightly above the same level that Andres Perea is at. Namely, one of the first two backups behind Urso and Mendez. While he’s only 20 years old, he already has more than 60 professional appearances and performed pretty well last year. Obviously he’ll need to adjust to the league since the style of play will undoubtedly be at least a little different. But, after having some time to learn behind Urso and Mendez, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him making regular substitute appearances and the occasional start when fixture congestion is bad.