At the moment, Orlando City has one open Designated Player spot ahead of the 2023 Major League Soccer season. The club re-signed former DP Mauricio Pereyra to a two-year-deal using Targeted Allocation Money, giving the club more roster-building flexibility this off-season, while also bringing back a player who has consistently been one of the best at the club since his signing. The question now has to be asked: what should the Lions do with that slot?
As my friend Sean Rollins noted earlier in the week, OCSC has a busy off-season ahead of it. The departures of Junior Urso and now Joao Moutinho mean that the Lions will need to replace two starters, and there’s a chance that number could still rise. Facundo Torres has reportedly been generating European interest, and if he asks to move to Europe, the Lions are not likely to stand in his way. Then, there’s Pedro Gallese. While there haven’t been any whispers of Emperor Pulpotine leaving the Lions, he’s currently out of contract. The first-choice goalkeeper for the Peruvian national team has been one of the better goalkeepers in Major League Soccer during his time with the Lions. If he also leaves, then there will be a mountain of transfer business to conduct this off-season.
That brings us to the all important question: Where should Orlando City use that Designated Player spot? Perhaps the most tempting answer is on an attacking midfielder. Pereyra is back in purple for two years and with 11 assists and a goal last season, he still clearly has some gas left in the tank. That said, he’ll be 33 in March and has visibly lost a step or two when it comes to pace. Orlando struggled to score goals last year, with a lack of creativity in the attacking third often cited as a reason for the paltry scoring numbers. While Gaston Gonzalez will be available in 2023 after suffering an ACL tear last year before playing a game for Orlando, we don’t know what kind of production he’ll be able to provide. Add in the fact that Facu might be headed to Europe, and there’s a case to be made for investing in another attacking piece, although if he does leave, then it frees up another DP spot anyway, so I don’t think this is an area of urgent importance just yet.
The Lions also need to replace Junior Urso. The Bear was a nailed-on starter during his time in Orlando, and the energy and industry he provided in the heart of midfield will be sorely missed. The Lions signed Felipe Martins last week, but it would be surprising if he’s been identified as the man to replace Urso. It’s possible that either Wilder Cartagena or Andres Perea are being eyed as the man to take up Urso’s mantle, but Perea didn’t light the world on fire in his appearances last year, and while Cartagena played well when on the field last year, he seems to be more of a defensive midfielder a la Cesar Araujo than a box-to-box guy like Junior. With the heart of midfield being such an important area, you can make an argument that OCSC should splurge on a good number eight.
The position I’m most curious about at the moment is left back. While Moutinho’s two goals and six assists in four years with Orlando don’t exactly scream “offensive juggernaut,” the team looked completely different with him on the field vs. with him off it. Outside of Pereyra he was the best crosser on the team and was far more comfortable joining the attack than the steady, but often defense-first Kyle Smith. It won’t be at all easy to replace what he brought to the table, but at least the Lions have plenty of time to do so. DP defenders aren’t something you see everyday in MLS. In fact, there were only three in the entire league last year and all three of them were center backs. I would be immensely surprised if Orlando decided to go that route when signing a new left back, but MLS is a weird old league, so you never know.
If it were my choice, I’d use the DP slot on a box-to-box midfielder to replace Urso, providing Facu doesn’t leave for Europe. Bringing in a central midfielder with high energy and long-lasting legs will help cover for Pereyra’s declining pace and mobility, and allow him to focus purely on chance creation and not worry about defensive duties. Trust in Gonzalez to provide goals, assists, and attacking threat from the left, Facu to pick up where he left off on the right, and the increased service from Mauricio to result in more looks for Ercan Kara. I also think it would be difficult to justify using a DP slot on a defender, especially a fullback, unless his name is Jordi Alba. All things said and done, I think using that sweet, sweet DP money on a box-to-box number eight is the way to go, time for Luiz Muzzi to make it happen.
Do you agree? If not, which position would you rather see the Lions spring for a DP? Let us know in the comments section below.