Orlando City’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday afternoon brought an end to the team’s 2022 preseason. The team’s first win of the year resulted in a record of 1-2-3 heading into the start of the season this weekend. However, more important than the preseason record is what happened during those games.
After initially closing all preseason games, fan pushback resulted in the club opening three of the five matches — one to the general public and two to season ticket members. This gave fans and media a chance to see what the team looks like as it heads into its eighth MLS season.
The following are my top three takeaways from Orlando City’s 2022 preseason.
The Kids are Alright
The timing of preseason, combined with procedural issues caused by the pandemic, allowed Orlando City to give some of the younger players plenty of minutes. While Antonio Carlos was stuck in Brazil due to visa issues, Pedro Gallese, Sebas Mendez, and Facundo Torres were on international duty early on.
As a result, some of the youngest Orlando City players saw plenty of playing time. It started with 17-year-old center back Thomas Williams, who played 85 minutes against FC Dallas. Fellow academy product Alex Freeman also saw minutes as a right back. Additionally, 2022 MLS SuperDraft pick Jack Lynn saw quite a bit of time up top, which included 45 minutes against FC Dallas and 60 minutes against Miami FC.
All three players played well during the preseason. Williams had an excellent performance against Dallas and followed it up with a strong showing against Miami. Freeman also played well as an outside back and Lynn scored a pair of goals, finishing second in preseason scoring to Tesho Akindele’s three goals. While Williams was already on a first-team contract, Freeman and Lynn both earned spots on the roster.
The most likely scenario is that the young players will spend a great deal of time playing with Orlando City B in the newly-formed MLS Next Pro league this season. However, they might be called up due to injuries, as this preseason showed that all three can have a future with the club.
Orlando City Will Depend On Its Defense…Again
Following the 2021 season, the club lost three of its most important attacking options in Nani, Daryl Dike, and Chris Mueller. The absences were visible in the team’s inability to finish chances through preseason.
The offense did show off its capability in two games, scoring four times against Minnesota United and three times against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. However, the Lions were shut out in two of the middle three games and a defender scored the only goal in the 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids.
On the other hand, the defense looked very strong apart from conceding five goals to Minnesota United in the preseason opener. With Carlos away, Rodrigo Schlegel gained more experience with Robin Jansson and showed once again that he’s up for the challenge.
Joao Moutinho and Ruan started against Dallas and Colorado, but Kyle Smith saw 90 minutes against Miami. The 30-year-old defender looked excellent in the game, both defensively and when involved in the attack.
The Lions’ defense was their biggest strength last year and remains nearly unchanged. Starting goalkeeper Gallese and his back four, as well as the top two backups, all returned. The only defender not returning this year is Emmanuel Mas, whose option was declined by the club. This indicates that Orlando City can expect a stingy defense once again this year.
New Additions are Fitting In Well
Orlando City made some big signings this off-season by adding Torres, Ercan Kara, and Cesar Araujo. All three made their debuts for the club this preseason and seem to be fitting in well.
Kara started early in the preseason but looked as though he’d been with the team before. The Austrian assisted a Benji Michel goal in the preseason opener against Minnesota and the new striker did well to find space and had a sense of where Alexandre Pato and Michel were going with the ball. It resulted in multiple opportunities in the first half against Dallas.
Unfortunately, Kara injured his ankle in the Dallas game, effectively ending his preseason. While it was a short appearance, the Austrian showed that he should be able to slide right into the lineup and produce.
Torres was late to join the team after representing Uruguay in World Cup qualifying. However, similar to Kara, Torres slid right in and looked the part. The 21-year-old was able to get on the ball frequently and looked at ease with his new teammates.
The new player who saw the most playing time this preseason was MLS U22 Initiative midfielder Araujo. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja was able to play the new midfielder alongside Mendez and Andres Perea, two of the players he’ll likely play with this season.
Araujo looked comfortable alongside both Mendez and Perea. He played with Mendez against Colorado and the final 30 minutes against Miami with Perea. Given his play with those two, it’s likely he’ll have the same chemistry if he partners Junior Urso as well.
It can be difficult for new players to get used to the team. However, the preseason games have shown that all three additions have had little trouble adapting to their new home.
Calls for opening preseason games resulted in Orlando City opening three of the team’s five matches. This gave fans and media an opportunity to see the team in action more than they had in past preseasons since Pareja became head coach. Did you have a chance to catch Orlando City this preseason? If so, what did you take away from the games? Let us know in the comments.