Orlando City dropped a bombshell this morning as the club announced that it and midfielder Junior Urso have mutually agreed to part ways, terminating the Bear’s contract so he can return to his native Brazil for personal reasons. Urso, who was the first option to wear the captain’s armband when Mauricio Pereyra wasn’t on the pitch, has been a mainstay in the Orlando lineup since his arrival in 2020 and this move comes as a surprise.
“Júnior has meant so much to the culture and direction of this club since joining us in 2020. He’s someone that we all love as both a player and a person, and we’re sad to see him leave,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “While we saw him as an important piece for us moving forward, and we were excited to welcome him back in 2023, we recognize that some things are more important than soccer. Júnior will always have a home with us here in Orlando.”
Urso, who has always been an emotional and fiery leader on and off the pitch, bid goodbye to the fans of the club that has been his home for the past three seasons.
“To my beloved Orlando City community, thank you very much for each and every minute you allowed me to represent you for the last three years,” Urso said in the club’s release. “There were 100 games, goals, and the championship hardware we’ve always dreamed of. I did everything in my power to make you feel well represented on the field, and hope I made you proud. It hurts to say goodbye. I didn’t want it to be this way, but it’s time to take care of my family. Know that I love you and am going to miss you. I will be rooting for you day-in and day-out. You will never hunt alone.”
The 33-year-old midfielder joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians and has since made 100 appearances as a Lion in all competitions, starting 89 of those matches. He has scored 12 goals and added 10 assists in MLS play in his three seasons in Orlando, logging a total of 14 goals and 11 assists in all competitive matches. Urso has played in all four of Orlando City’s MLS playoff matches, providing one goal, and helped the team get to the postseason this year in the season finale with an exquisite turn and strike to beat both Jonathan Mensah and Eloy Room. That game allowed the Lions to pull level with the Columbus Crew and the team went on to win on a Facundo Torres penalty.
Urso also helped lead the Lions to the team’s first-ever trophy in the club’s MLS era, starting all six matches in Orlando City’s run to the 2022 U.S. Open Cup championship. He played in every MLS match for Orlando this season and all six cup games.
What It Means for Orlando City
A fan favorite, the Bear wasn’t only a top-notch box-to-box midfielder for Orlando City in his time in the City Beautiful, but he was also a team leader, who contributed greatly to the culture and chemistry of the Lions. Although his contributions in the goals and assists department as that late-arriving runner into the box will be missed, the intangibles he brought will also be difficult to replace.
Urso’s ability to win the ball in the midfield, shield it and draw fouls to slow the game down, and to frustrate his opponents, made him a valuable member of the team. His versatility allowed him to slide up into a winger or attacking midfield position — as he did often in 2022 with Pereyra dropping into a deeper-lying playmaker role — or fill in when needed as a No. 6. His best spot was in that No. 8 role, where he could help connect the lines while both adding to the attack and protecting the back line with his timely defensive play.
Muzzi will have to find a player who can eat up a lot of minutes in the midfield to replace Urso, and he’ll have to do a bit of retooling to the middle of Orlando’s formation. While Cesar Araujo has basically locked down the No. 6 spot for as long as he’s here, it would be wise to extend Wilder Cartagena’s stay to provide quality depth and it wouldn’t hurt to bring in another player who can fill in as the midfield stopper. Andres Perea is a youthful option to take over Urso’s box-to-box role, but his play has seemingly dropped in each of the last two years as opponents become familiar with him. And he also doesn’t have the quick feet one would like to see from someone often operating in heavy traffic or who is often put under immediate pressure upon change of possession.
The off-season shopping list grew a little today, and it’s an important item Orlando will need to find.