Orlando City SC has taken a significant step toward completing the roster for 2023 with the re-signing of midfielder and captain Mauricio Pereyra to a new two-year contract through 2024. The deal takes the Uruguayan out of a Designated Player slot as the club inked him to a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract.
“Mauricio has been our leader both on and off the field since he joined the club and he did a fantastic job as captain for us last year,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “The example he sets with his professionalism and what he means to our group cannot be overstated. We’re so happy to have Mauricio back with us for the next couple of seasons.”
Pereyra, who succeeded Nani as the club’s captain, originally signed with Orlando City on July 30, 2019, arriving from Russian side FC Krasnodar, where he played from 2013 to 2019. He re-signed with OCSC on a one-year deal for the 2022 season on Dec. 17, 2021. Out of contract after the just-completed season, the Lions reportedly were already in discussions to retain his services for 2023 when the club announced its postseason roster decisions on Nov. 14 — just nine days ago.
Since joining the Lions, Pereyra has appeared in 83 MLS matches across three and a half seasons (76 starts), logging 6,218 minutes. The 32-year-old has scored just four league goals but has added a career club record 33 assists in that span. He has started all four of Orlando’s four playoff matches, playing 345 minutes without scoring a goal, but he has contributed one postseason assist.
In all competitions, Pereyra has provided six goals and 35 assists for the Lions in his time in Orlando. That includes six appearances (three starts) in Orlando City’s run to the U.S. Open Cup title. Along the way, Pereyra scored the game-winning goal in the semifinals against the New York Red Bulls, assisted on the goal that eventually sent the Inter Miami game to penalties, and scored the decisive spot kick in the postgame shootout to eliminate the Herons and push OCSC into the quarterfinals.
The veteran midfielder often played a deeper-lying role for Oscar Pareja in 2022, setting a club record across all competitions with 12 assists and becoming the first Lion to record double-digit assists in back-to-back seasons. The Mane Land staff gave Pereyra a solid rating of 7 out of 10 for his 2022 campaign after he received 7.5 grades in each of the previous two seasons. That slight dip in his rating had more to do with overall play in a different role than his attacking performance, which was as solid as usual.
Before joining Orlando City, Pereyra played in 154 games with FC Krasnodar, scoring 24 goals with 24 assists, per WhoScored.com. He made his debut with Nacional in his native city of Montevideo back in 2009 in a Copa Libertadores qualifier. While with Nacional from 2009-2011, Pereya appeared in 45 matches, scoring three goals. He was sold to Argentinian side Club Atlético Lanús for $1.3 million in August of 2011 and went on to make 47 appearances with Lanús from 2011-2013, scoring three goals. A former Uruguayan youth international, Pereya earned 12 caps with his country’s U-20 side.
What It Means for Orlando City
It remains to be seen how Pareja will use Pereyra in 2023. If he continues to play a deeper-lying midfield role, it can be a bit problematic when he’s caught up field in the attack at times. If Gaston Gonzalez can return to full fitness, Pereyra could return to a more advanced role in between Gonzalez and Facundo Torres — provided the latter isn’t sold in the off-season. Pereyra’s vision and ability to thread a pass through a tight window is a huge asset to the Orlando City attack and while it would be nice for him to chip in a few more goals each season the way the other top No. 10 players around the league do, this just seems to be who Mauri is at this point in his career.
Pereyra will turn 33 in March but there is still some tread on his tires. His quickness and top-end speed isn’t what it once was, but he’s a clever player who can often overcome that. When he doesn’t, he tends to get stuck into some tackles you’d rather not see — more from being late than anything. However, his maturity and locker room demeanor are attributes that can’t be overlooked on a young team.
The big thing here is that without Pereyra requiring a DP slot anymore, the club has flexibility to add another key piece to the roster. That could be another playmaker or forward. It could also be the difference in bringing back the as-yet unsigned Pedro Gallese, although spending a DP slot on a goalkeeper — even a good one — is problematic roster building. Ideally, the Lions should bring in a young No. 10 who can grow into Pereyra’s role, because experimenting with Andres Perea as the “replacement Mauricio” did not go well in 2022.
Orlando City reported that it was in discussions to potentially bring back Gallese and backup goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, forward Benji Michel, and defender Joao Moutinho. Signing Pereyra is the first step in retaining all of those players, but it’s still likely that at least one or two won’t end up returning. The biggest remaining priority from that group is obviously El Pulpo, but it would be huge to bring back Moutinho and Michel could have an expanded role with the club parting ways with Tesho Akindele.
All other roster moves aside, it’s good to see the club bring Pereyra back for another season (and beyond).