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Orlando City Signs Uruguayan Midfielder César Araújo

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The Lions get their first signing under the MLS U22 Initiative.

FBL-LIBERTADORES-WANDERERSURU-BOLIVAR Photo by PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP via Getty Images

Orlando City fans who have been pining for a signing this off-season finally had their long, national nightmare come to an end today as the Lions have added a player. The club signed 20-year-old midfielder César Araújo to a three-year contract with a club option for the 2025 season.

Araújo, who will turn 21 in April, joins Orlando from Montevideo Wanderers Fútbol Club of Uruguay’s Liga Profesional de Primera División.

“We’re very excited about bringing César to Orlando and having him suit up in purple,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s focused and energetic in the center and we expect that he’ll bolster and strengthen our midfield.”

The midfielder developed in the Wanderers’ youth academy system and joined the first team in July of 2019. He didn’t score but recorded six assists in 63 appearances across all competitions, including appearances in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. A native of Montevideo, Uruguay, Araújo was named as the Wanderers’ Player of the Year in 2021 and was nominated for the Premios AUF Best XI this season.

What It Means for Orlando City

While this isn’t a signing designed to replace the offense that walked out the door along with Nani, Daryl Dike, and Chris Mueller, it’s a position of need in terms of depth. The Lions parted ways with Uri Rosell and Homegrown Raul Aguilera Jr. after the 2021 season, leaving a need to add a central midfielder. Araújo is a young player who can come in and learn from Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez and potentially develop into a player who the Lions can sell on. He can play central or defensive midfielder.

The right-footed player is Orlando City’s first MLS U22 Initiative signing. The Lions won’t need to incorporate the acquisition cost of the player into their budget or use a Designated Player slot on Araújo. Typically, a player’s contract and transfer fee, amortized over the entire deal, would represent the team’s budget hit. Because Araújo is 20, his cap hit will be $150,000 under the initiative. That will jump to $200,000 next season after he turns 21. He can continue to occupy that U22 slot until he turns 25. Players are not eligible for the U22 Initiative if their salary exceeds the maximum salary budget charge.

The initiative is an upgrade for the MLS in terms of roster building. A player like Araújo in the past may have cost the team a DP slot. That was always risky with a young, unproven player. Orlando learned that with the signing of Josué Colmán. Araújo will be given an opportunity to earn playing time but has an opportunity to develop without being costly to the team’s budget if he isn’t quite ready to break into the starting lineup.

This, and other rumored off-season acquisitions by Orlando may indicate that the club is going to lean heavily on the league’s U22 Initiative in roster building. The Lions, like any MLS team, may have up to three U22 Initiative players on the roster as they don’t have three senior DPs over the max budget charge.

Orlando City may sign two more U22 Initiative players provided they leave one Designated Player slot vacant or sign a Young Designated Player with the third slot. The Lions may not add any more U22 Initiative players if they sign a third Designated Player who is age 24 or older and is above the maximum Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) amount of $1,612,500.

If you’re confused, it’s only because MLS roster rules are complex, but you can find those here.