Orlando City announced last week that the club has re-signed forward Alexandre Pato to a one-year contract. He was a needed signing after the club lost Daryl Dike and Nani during the off-season. However, even with the welcome news, the Lions still need to add a quality player in that position.
Heading into the 2021 MLS season, Orlando City was pretty well set in the attack. The team had Nani returning, Dike was expected to return from his loan in England once Barnsley FC’s season ended, and the club signed Pato.
The offense is much less settled heading into this season. Nani and Dike are no longer with the team after leaving this off-season. The former’s contract option wasn’t exercised by the club and he joined Venezia FC in Italy. The latter was sold to West Bromwich Albion in the English Championship, a departure that was somewhat expected this off-season.
Prior to the re-signing of Pato, Orlando City had four forwards on the roster; Tesho Akindele, Silvester van der Water, Alexander Alvarado, and Benji Michel. While the team has the position well stocked in numbers, three of those players are more natural wingers than center forwards, and there are still questions about whether the team has a reliable source of goals.
When the Lions acquired Pato prior to the 2021 MLS season, his availability was always going to be a question. Once the brightest young player in the world, Pato’s career has been littered with injury problems. The team was gambling that he would be able to stay healthy, despite his injury-prone past.
In the 77th minute of the season opener against Atlanta United, Pato went down with a right knee injury, requiring surgery. The injury kept the forward out for most of the season, and even when he came back late in the year, he was limited in his number of minutes.
If Pato can stay healthy in 2022, he can be one of the best strikers in the league. He showed flashes of that ability late in the season, as seen by his late free kick against Nashville SC in the team’s final home game of the season.
However, he’s shown no indication that he’ll be able to stay on the field through the majority of an MLS season. While Pato’s inability to stay healthy is one reason why the team should still be in search of a striker, it’s not the only reason.
If Pato becomes injured again, the Lions will have to find its offense elsewhere. The most obvious way to tell that an addition is needed is by checking last year’s goal totals. The team’s top two scorers were Dike and Nani, both with 10 goals on the year. They were followed by Michel and Junior Urso, who had four goals each.
But looking further into the statistics shows a bigger problem. The Orlando City forward with the most MLS experience is the 28-year-old Akindele, but he’s had his struggles in Orlando. After scoring a career-high 10 goals in 1,880 minutes during his first year in The City Beautiful, the Canadian has only scored six times in 2,182 MLS regular season minutes in the past two years. Akindele is an asset to the team with his holdup ability and the pressure he puts on opponents, but he can’t be counted on to provide goals.
Other than Pato, Orlando City’s most productive forward now is the 24-year-old Homegrown product, Michel. The speedster had an excellent 2020 season in limited time, scoring five goals in 839 minutes. His production dipped in 2021, scoring just four goals in 1,870 regular season minutes.
In terms of shooting, Michel was the most efficient forward on the team in 2021, including Dike. Of Orlando City players who took at least 10 shots on the year, Michel was second in percentage of shots on target, putting 15 of his 34 shots (44.1%) on goal. The only player with a higher on-target percentage was Andres Perea, who put nine of his 20 shots (45%) on target. Dike came in third on the year, placing 13 of his 30 shots (43.3%) on frame.
The shooting accuracy of Orlando City’s forwards dips quite precipitously after Dike. Akindele only put 10 of his 28 shots (35.7%) on frame, van der Water was on target on eight of his 26 shots (30.8%), and Alvarado only had one off-target shot attempt. Pato put half of his shots on target but only took four on the year in his limited time.
If Pato can stay healthy and Michel can improve his scoring, the Lions might be fine on offense. Despite their lack of production, Akindele and van der Water can come on late to hold possession and provide energy, something that was helpful at times during the 2021 season. However, those are high expectations of the oft-injured Pato and the young Michel.
In all likelihood, Orlando City is going to need to bring in a quality striker who will provide goals. Fortunately, the Lions have the opportunity to do so. The loss of Nani means the Lions have at least two of their three Designated Player spots available. If the team’s wealthy new owners are willing to dish out the money, the team can bring in a top striker to ensure the team can score, even if neither Pato nor Michel perform to the best of their ability.
The losses of Dike and Nani this off-season saw Orlando City lose much of its offense from 2021. The re-signing of Pato will provide a boost — if he can stay in the lineup — but the team should still be in the market for a quality striker. If not, it could be a long year for the Lions’ attack.