Orlando City signed Uruguayan midfielder Cesar Araujo on Jan. 7 from Montevideo Wanderers to a three-year contract with an additional club option year. Araujo’s signing was part of Major League Soccer’s U22 Initiative, a program designed to promote the growth of younger players and to remove some of the roadblocks to their paths to professional soccer by giving teams incentive and opportunity to sign such players at a reduced budget charge.
Araujo was expected to come in and battle Sebas Mendez, Andres Perea, and Joey DeZart for playing time but instead he quickly claimed the club’s No. 6 role as his own and made Mendez a bench player who was ultimately shipped out in search of playing time elsewhere.
Let’s look back at Araujo’s first season in Orlando.
In the U.S. Open Cup, Araujo appeared in all six matches (5 starts), logging 475 out of the 600 total available minutes (two of the games included 30 minutes of extra time). He scored two goals on three shot attempts, putting two of the three on target. Araujo completed 88.4% of his 293 pass attempts with 19 accurate long balls and recorded two key passes but did not notch an assist. He finished with eight interceptions, committing 11 fouls, suffering 15, and earning two yellow cards.
During the regular season, Araujo appeared in 31 of Orlando City’s 34 games (28 starts), logging 2,462 minutes — fifth most on the team. He did not score a goal but he did assist on one, attempting just 17 shots all season and getting only two on frame. He passed with 90.7% accuracy, 12 key passes, 74 accurate long balls, and two accurate crosses. Defensively, he compiled 73 tackles, 31 interceptions, 29 clearances, and six blocks. He committed 43 fouls and suffered 69, receiving eight yellow cards and getting sent off once.
Araujo also started in Orlando’s playoff match in Montreal, logging 87 minutes. He did not score or assist on a goal or attempt a shot. He connected on 87.8% of his 41 passes and completed three accurate long balls but did not have a key pass or a cross. Defensively, he finished with three tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He did not commit a foul but drew one and was not booked.
Just going by defensive play and controlling the midfield, there are a lot of matches to choose from, but the no-brainer best game here from Araujo is his two-goal performance against the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on July 27 in Exploria Stadium.
The Lions fell behind in stoppage time just before the break when Lewis Morgan scored in transition and it looked as though the Red Bulls would carry momentum into halftime. But Orlando City won a corner kick in the final seconds of the opening period and made it pay off. Araujo pounced on the rebound of a header that crashed off the left post and swept it home for his first professional goal, tying the score at the death of the half. The youngster’s excitement was obvious and the celebration seemed to boost the entire team, setting the scene for a big second half.
Mauricio Pereyra gave Orlando its first lead in the game just one minute and 16 seconds into the second half, finishing a fantastic team goal. That set the stage for Araujo to give the Lions some insurance in the 62nd minute on another corner kick. Alexandre Pato’s delivery was deflected into the air. Benji Michel headed it across the box and Araujo picked it out of the air in one motion and smashed it home for his brace, giving Orlando City some breathing room en route to a 5-1 drubbing of the Red Bulls.
Araujo’s two goals were scored on his only two shot attempts of the match. His two shots were a season high in all competitions, matched only once, and his two shots on target were a season high. He passed at an 87.2% rate in the game, with three accurate long balls.
Defensively, Araujo helped limit the dangerous Morgan to just two shot attempts and 68.8% passing. He committed three fouls and took a booking in the match, but that’s part of the central midfielder’s job and without Araujo snatching momentum from New York at the death of the first half, Orlando City might not have won its first major trophy in its MLS era this past season.
2022 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff rated Araujo’s first MLS season with an incredible composite score of 8 out of 10 for the 2022 season. Among the staff, Araujo is considered one of the team’s most valuable players from this past season and while some of that is likely that his contributions were a bit surprising in comparison to some of the higher profile signings, it is mainly because he played extremely well. Just 20 when he was signed, the now-21-year-old midfielder has looked far more like a seasoned veteran than many older central midfielders around the league. If the Uruguayan had any issues adjusting to a new culture, league, and team, those issues never showed, which is a testament to Araujo’s maturity and quality of play.
The only knock on his game isn’t really a knock at all. Defensive midfielders aren’t expected to contribute heavily to a team’s offense, but if Araujo can provide more opportunities for his teammates via long balls or through balls (although he does have a mean long throw), and knock in an occasional goal in league play, he’d become even more exceptional.
Araujo is signed through 2024 with an option for 2025, but European teams will be inquiring soon if they aren’t already. Orlando City would be wise to keep him for as long as he’s willing to stay. If the Lions manage to hang onto him for another year, and he continues to play like he has, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t in Europe by the start of the 2023-2024 season. Ideally, if/when the Lions sell Araujo, the club should do what it can to find a partner willing to loan him back to Orlando City the way the Chicago Fire did with Chelsea and goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina. The young Uruguayan midfielder is just 21 and is already among the best defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer. You don’t part with a player like that until you absolutely have no choice.
Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)
- Jack Lynn (10/21/22)
- Joey DeZart (10/22/22)
- Nicholas Gioacchini (10/24/22)
- Thomas Williams (10/24/22)
- Michael Halliday (10/26/22)
- Tesho Akindele (10/28/22)
- Mason Stajduhar (10/29/22)
- Ivan Angulo (10/30/22)
- Jake Mulraney (10/31/22)
- Andrés Perea (11/1/22)
- Kyle Smith (11/2/22)
- Wilder Cartagena (11/3/22)
- Benji Michel (11/4/22)
- Alexandre Pato (11/5/22)
- Ruan (11/6/22)
- Rodrigo Schlegel (11/7/22)