To this point in the off-season, Orlando City hasn’t been the most...active team in the transfer market. That isn’t exactly news, as Cesar Araujo is currently the lone signing with the youngster brought in to shore up defensive midfield using the MLS U22 Initiative. As our own Sean Rollins noted earlier this week, however, the area of the field that remains woefully lacking is forward. After the departures of Nani, Chris Mueller, and Daryl Dike, the Lions were looking dangerously thin, and all while preseason barreled ever closer like a train bearing down on an unfortunate soul tied to the tracks. While the re-signing of Alexandre Pato helps things slightly, Sean is very correct in stating that OCSC needs to bring in a top-rate striker to replace Dike. The trouble doesn’t end there though.
On Wednesday it was announced that Alexander Alvarado will be returning to Ecuador to join LDU on loan during the 2022 season (although Orlando hasn’t announced it yet, just the Ecuadorian side), with an option to buy at the end of the year. While Alvarado has not been a starter or regular substitute for OCSC, he has provided depth and made occasional spot starts last year when fixture congestion and injuries were at their worst. Oscar Pareja and Luiz Muzzi seem to have concluded that Alvarado is not up to the standard of Orlando City, which is all well and good, but his departure now takes the Lions’ stable of forwards from dangerously thin to threadbare.
Currently, the forwards on Orlando City’s roster are Tesho Akindele and Alexandre Pato at striker and Benji Michel and Silvester van der Water at winger. Full stop. If the club signs Jack Lynn and Nick Taylor, then they’ll have one more striker in Lynn and one more attacking midfielder/winger in Taylor. Even if that happens though, which is unlikely given that third-round MLS SuperDraft picks aren’t often signed by their teams, that leaves essentially no room for any absences to occur among the forwards given the formations that Oscar Pareja has favored during his time in Orlando.
Under Pareja the Lions have typically lined up in one of three ways: a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, or a 4-2-3-1. Each formation presents myriad issues given the current dearth of forwards on the roster. In a 4-3-3, Orlando has one striker on the bench and no wingers, or two bench strikers and one backup winger in the event the draft picks are signed. In a 4-4-2, the men in purple have no backup striker and no backup wingers (one of each if the draftees is signed), assuming Michel and van der Water are deployed at the left and right midfield positions. Finally, in a 4-2-3-1, the Lions have one backup striker and at best, one backup winger.
So to recap, if the absolute best case scenario occurs of signing both attacking draft picks, then Orlando will have three strikers and three wingers to start the 2022 season, two of whom will be rookies. That’s already a laughably thin margin of error and it’s without even taking into account the fact that some of that group will spend time on the sidelines during the season due to injury because that’s just what happens over the course of eight months of professional soccer. Oh, and there’s a decent chance Orlando will be without Tesho for the last round of World Cup qualifiers at the end of March — a stretch that could very well include away games to the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers, and a home date with LAFC. Concerned yet?
I clearly am, and because of that concern and the mounting angst that comes with it, if the Lions don’t make some sort of attacking signing soon, I’m going to make like an Irish immigrant in 1904 and die of consumption. What’s consumption? Glad you asked! Essentially, consumption is what we called tuberculosis (TB) before we knew what TB actually was. It was the leading cause of death in the United States at the start of the 1900s, and it was called consumption because the sick person’s body seemed to be literally consumed by the disease, wasting away until the individual died.
Now you might be asking why I’m specifically going to die of consumption if the Lions don’t sign an attacking player in the immediate future, and there’s a good answer for that. Recently, when talking with my fellow writers here at The Mane Land, I compared the off-season to an especially brutal desert — harsh, unrelenting, and filled with mirages. Like all of you dear readers, I’m a fan first and foremost and this off-season has been tough as hell on me. Every time I get pinged about a news announcement from the club my heart jumps and there’s a rush of excitement...only to see that the club is announcing promotions, additions to the front office or technical staff, or the preseason schedule.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important for the health and growth of the club, and Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira are more than deserving of the promotions they received. But you know just as well as I do that what gets people excited are signings, sweet, sweet signings. Besides that, the club truly needs to add both firepower and bodies in the attack and with every day that passes without news of reinforcements, frustration mounts higher and higher. It’s hard when you continually get your hopes up for something, only to get faked out and let down, and eventually it starts to eat away at you a little.
That’s where consumption comes in, because with the loan departure of Alvarado it seems to be a particularly fitting way for me to (fake) die. This team seems like it’s beginning to waste away at the attacking end of the field, shrinking more and more until it eventually becomes completely consumed. What better way for me to pass into the great beyond than wasting away into nothing like the team I love so much? There will undoubtedly be those of you who say that I’m “being dramatic” or that I “don’t have a firm grip on reality” and “need to seek help.” To those people I say, that’s what being a soccer fan is all about, baby!
At the end of the day, this all comes from a place of love. I care about this club a lot, and it’s been truly wonderful to see it break free of the cellar of Major League Soccer after five long and largely painful years. It’s an exciting time to be a fan with a new owner on board and the team having made the playoffs for two straight years. With the core of the squad strong, there’s a sense that the Lions just need a few more pieces to build a team that can truly contend for an MLS Cup before its window to do so closes, and that makes the stagnation that has seemingly set in this off-season all the more frustrating and panic-inducing.
So please, Orlando City, please make some attacking signings and for the love of all that is holy, make them soon. I really don’t want to die of consumption.