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Defender Joao Moutinho Bids Orlando City Farewell in Social Media Post

Keeping the out-of-contract left back always seemed like a longshot.

MLS: Orlando City SC at CF Montreal David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that Joao Moutinho’s Orlando City career is over as the talented left back bid farewell to Orlando on his Instagram account this afternoon.

Orlando, 4 years of my life that have gone by. Lots of up and downs, and some unforgettable moments along the way. I felt like I belonged since day 1, and words will never be enough to express how grateful I am to the city, club, and country that took me in as one of their own all these years.Thank you to everyone that was involved and made this journey so rewarding. I leave with my head held high knowing that I always gave my best for the team. To all the fans, thank you for the incredible support, day in and day out. To “The City Beautiful”, you will always have a very special place in my heart. #VamosOrlando

The 24-year-old Lisbon, Portugal native was out of contract after the 2022 season and even though Orlando City announced in its season-ending roster decisions that the club was still in discussions with Moutinho about a potential return, that always seemed like a longshot. The reason it seemed unlikely is because there were rumblings all season about teams from Europe being interested in his services, and Moutinho himself expressed a desire to take his game there, going so far as to say the time was right for that to happen. The fact that Orlando City did not make a bona fide offer to Moutinho was also a hint that the club knew his return was a longshot.

The Lions acquired Moutinho via trade from LAFC in December 2018 in exchange for Mohamed El-Munir. This was a good trade for the Lions, as El-Munir immediately became a backup in LA and only lasted two more seasons in MLS, while Moutinho has been a starter for Orlando for four seasons (when healthy). That last part in parentheses is key, because the Portuguese defender struggled to stay in the lineup during his first four MLS seasons — one in LA and three in Orlando.

Moutinho is coming off his healthiest season of his professional career so far. He appeared in five of Orlando City’s six U.S. Open Cup matches (two starts) in 2022, logging 298 minutes. He did not score a goal or attempt a shot through his five matches in the competition. He completed 80.4% of his total passes, including four key passes, 11 accurate long balls and two crosses. Moutinho recorded one assist — in the semifinal against the New York Red Bulls. On the defensive side of the ball, he was responsible for six interceptions, and notably won 100% of his duels in the Lions’ 3-0 win in the championship match against Sacramento Republic FC. He committed two fouls while suffering one and was not booked during the tournament.

In the MLS regular season, Moutinho was a consistent force on the back line for Orlando City. He logged 2,461 minutes across 28 regular season matches (28 starts), essentially doubling both the number of matches he started in 2021 (14) and his total minutes played (1,290). He scored two goals on 18 shots, getting four on target. He completed 1,103 of his 1,376 total pass attempts for a 80.2% total passing accuracy on the season. Moutinho completed 20 successful crosses and gave the ball away 26 times to the opposition. Defensively, Moutinho contributed 69 tackles, 30 interceptions, 28 blocked shots and 44 clearances. He committed 38 fouls, while suffering 11, and he recieved eight yellow cards and no red cards on the season.

During his four seasons with the Lions, Moutinho made 86 appearances (75 starts) in MLS play, scoring three goals and adding eight assists, with 48 total shot attempts (nine on frame). He contributed 61 key passes and 46 successful crosses on 83.6% passing accuracy. Defensively, he had 88 interceptions, 142 tackles, 94 clearances, and 37 blocks.

What It Means for Orlando City

A social media post is not necessarily the be-all, end-all of official statements, but since it came from the player’s personal account, it seems the Lions have lost the best left back they’ve had since joining Major League Soccer for the 2015 season. Moutinho’s injury history kept him from leaving a bigger mark on the club, but his two-way contributions when healthy were about as good as those of any left back in the league. He will be a difficult player to replace, judging by the performance of every other player who has occupied that spot, dating back to Luke Boden and Brek Shea in the team’s first year in MLS.

Orlando City has signed a left back already this off-season when it brought in Luca Petrasso from Toronto FC just three weeks ago today. Whether Luiz Muzzi and Oscar Pareja see the Toronto Homegrown Player as starting material, at just 22 years old, or if he was brought in to be a more reliable backup option (being left-footed) than Kyle Smith. If Petrasso isn’t deemed as good or better than Moutinho, the search for a starter is an important piece of business for this off-season. If he is, then the club should still add a left-footed backup so that Smith isn’t forced to play on his weaker side for whenever Petrasso is unable to play.

Moutinho’s departure, at least for the moment, opens up some room under the cap. He made a base salary of $220,000 and a guaranteed total of $263,000 in 2022 according to the MLS Players Association.

At 24, Moutinho is correct — the time is right for him to see if he can take his game to Europe and be successful. Waiting any longer would likely result in fewer opportunities and another injury setback might also scare off some potential suitors. We wish him luck in whatever comes next for him and hope that Orlando City is mentioned often if he ends up finding success on his home continent.