The 2022 Major League Soccer season is just about to kick off. Break out your scarves, grab your new Sunshine Kit, and get ready to celebrate the return of Orlando City to Exploria Stadium for the club’s eighth year in MLS and the first full year under the new ownership of the Wilf family.
Orlando City is coming off back-to-back playoff years but had a disappointing end to the 2021 campaign and bowed out of the postseason after just one game, falling at Nashville. The club lost a considerable amount of its attack in the off-season with the departure of Chris Mueller to Scotland, the sale of star striker Daryl Dike to West Brom, and the decision not to pick up the option on 35-year-old winger Nani’s contract. The back end, however, remains intact.
Let’s take a look at Orlando City’s transition from 2021 to 2022.
How Did Orlando City Finish in 2021?
The Lions finished sixth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-9-12 and 51 points, which represented a club record for wins and points. The team finished lower in the standings than in 2020, when it ended the season in fourth position, but that was in a shorter season. Orlando set club records for home wins (8) and clean sheets (9) in 2021, but struggled a bit down the stretch to lose a position for a home game in the playoffs, losing four straight in September — the longest such streak under Oscar Pareja. Even though the Lions lost only once in their final eight regular-season games, Orlando City drew four of those games to spill precious points. The club blew leads in three of those draws, although the last one should have been won on a late Andres Perea goal that was overturned after a video review that appeared anything but a clear and obvious error.
As a result of the draw in that last home game, the Lions needed a road win at Montreal to clinch a playoff berth and they were able to get a 2-0 victory to do just that. However, despite scoring an early Dike goal in the playoff game at Nashville, the Lions lacked sharpness in the attack and mistakes were costly in a 3-1 loss in the opening round, making for a quick postseason exit.
Oscar Pareja enters his third season at the helm. Papi is 24-13-20 as head coach of Orlando City across two years and although he’s led the team to the playoffs in both of his seasons in charge, he’s 0-2-1 in three postseason games, with a shootout victory following the lone draw in 2020.
F, Ercan Kara
F, Facundo Torres
MF, Cesar Araujo
F, Daryl Dike
F, Chris Mueller
MF, Uri Rosell
D, Emmanuel Mas
Projected Best XI:
Pareja likes to mix his shapes and even when using a “standard” shape, it often looks different due to Ruan essentially playing a hybrid wingback/fullback position to maximize his strengths. City’s best lineup at this point appears to be a modified 4-4-2 with Alexandre Pato playing underneath new Designated Player striker Ercan Kara, but it can also work as a 4-2-3-1 with Pato playing wider.
Pedro Gallese; Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Sebas Mendez, Cesar Araujo, Alexandre Pato, Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres, Ercan Kara.
Best Off-Season Move:
It might be too soon to tell, but the best move during the off-season appears to be the addition of Torres on a Young Designated Player contract. The 21-year-old Uruguayan arrived on a club record transfer fee and has incredible upside. He has the potential to replace the production that left the club with Nani in a younger, faster package.
If it isn’t Torres, than it is likely target striker Kara, who stands 6-foot-4 and has excellent skill with both holdup play and connecting with teammates in the final third. He’ll be counted on to replace the lost double-digit goal talent of Dike.
Best Reason to Pay Attention:
The newbies. Orlando City has added two extremely young South American imports in Torres and Araujo and a relatively young DP striker in Kara, who is 26. The 2022 team has a proven goalkeeper, back line, and central midfield. It also has a proven string puller in No. 10 Pereyra. The biggest unknown is what the young additions will bring to the team, and the key to this year’s squad staying in the playoff positions is how quickly Torres and Kara adjust and can provide the offense the Lions need to replace.
Orlando City’s One Glaring Weakness:
The biggest concern for Lions fans should be whether the club did enough to replace the offense that Nani, Dike, and Mueller provided. Kara and Torres both need to adjust to new leagues and haven’t had much time to settle in due to being mid-camp arrivals and the added time off the pitch for Kara due to his ankle injury. The duo need to gel with their new teammates on the fly and a lack of offense by Orlando in the preseason is easily attributed to not having Kara and Torres still not being on the same page just yet. And that third member of the triumvirate needed to replace the attacking starters never materialized, so the team will need a combination of Pato, Benji Michel, and Silvester van der Water to have a big jump in production to make up for any shortfall.
Orlando City’s Biggest Strength:
In a word: defense. The entire back line and goalkeeper Pedro Gallese are back. Gallese is one of the best shot stoppers in the league and the central defense returns the partnership of Brazilian Antonio Carlos and Swede Robin Jansson for a third year together. Starting fullbacks Ruan and Joao Moutinho have a good chemistry with the Carlos-Jansson pairing as well. Adding to that is the return of Sebas Mendez, who is emerging as a force in the central midfield. He and veteran Junior Urso have proven to be effective at shielding the back line and helping limit scoring chances. MLS U22 Initiative midfielder Araujo also appears to have the ability to step in and help protect the back five players and at age 20 hasn’t come close yet to reaching his potential as a professional.
One Fact to Impress Your Friends:
Orlando City has finished the season with a top five offense in the Eastern Conference in both seasons since Pareja became head coach. That’s something the club had only done once prior to his arrival — back in 2016.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe Character who Most Personifies this Team:
I’m going to say Ant-Man here. The Lions are still relative newcomers when it comes to their inclusion as a team in the upper half of the league. Like Ant-Man, you’re never really sure if you can trust them to pull through or fail spectacularly at the crucial moment, even though it tends to mostly work out in the end. They often get the job done but not always in a way fans would expect or would even want. That all seems to add up to an Ant-Man comparison in my view.
That will do it for this year’s preview. Buckle up and get ready to find out what kind of team Orlando City has for 2022. It may be a bumpier ride than we’ve seen the past two seasons, especially early in the year.