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Ruan’s Play Can Be Exciting in Both Good and Bad Ways

Orlando City’s speedy fullback is a mixed bag on the right side of the Lions’ back line.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

There have been several instances where I’ve been asked about Ruan, and people have expressed aggravation in regards to his play. As such, I thought I’d take a moment to address the issue prior to the upcoming match against the Chicago Fire this weekend.

There are those who get frustrated with Ruan for his crossing, and I am one of those people. Some poor defending and an ill-advised header that led to two of LAFC’s goals on Saturday have combined to draw the ire of Orlando City fans recently.

The reality is that there are good and not-so-good aspects to the Brazilian’s game. The good includes his speed. He is one of the fastest players in MLS, and you can’t coach speed. That speed allows him to get up the field in the attack in Oscar Pareja’s system. It also allows him to get back and defend in transition after change of possession. However, he is not Trent Alexander-Arnold for goodness sake, and though he is probably faster, he definitely isn’t as skilled. If he was, he wouldn’t be playing with Orlando City since he’d be in Europe making a lot more money.

In his time at Orlando City, Ruan has improved his passing percentage each of his first three seasons. Starting at 76.1% in 2019, he improved to 80.3% in 2020, and to 82.5% in 2021. So far this season, he is passing at an 82.3% rate, which is right in line with last season. He has also increased his number of successful crosses each year, with 11 in 2019, 13 in 2020, and 16 in 2021. This season he already has six, putting him on pace to up that number again.

That brings us to the not-so-good part of his game. While he is providing crosses, most are not on target for one of the attacking players to score a goal. There’s a reason he only had five assists in 2019, and four in both 2020 and 2021. I’m certain that it is something the coaches are trying to work on with him, but it hasn’t really come around as of yet, and at age 26, it may never happen. I think this is where some of the frustration with Ruan comes from, and why some think perhaps he should not start.

For a moment, let’s assume he doesn’t start against Chicago. If Ruan doesn’t start then what other players are available to take on that duty? Typically, Kyle Smith is the backup for right back when Ruan is unavailable. Smith is a dedicated player who has shown he can be a consistent defensive contributor when given playing time, but do you really want to start him over Ruan? Smith certainly doesn’t have the speed to range as far up and down the right side to get into the attack. If he does move up, he doesn’t have as much speed to get back in time on defense. When he came on against LAFC, the attack up the right flank didn’t get any better. Having Smith in might mean a tactical change for the rest of the team.

The other option is Michael Halliday, though at the moment he is on the injured list with a thigh injury. When healthy, he has good pace, but doesn’t have the needed experience. Halliday has potential but needs time to grow into the position. Sitting Ruan to get Halliday more minutes is not a solution that gives the Lions the best chance to win. One could perhaps argue for Halliday over Smith, but certainly not over Ruan.

After that, the only choice is Alex Freeman, who is even younger than Halliday.

Ruan is the best option that Orlando City has at the moment and those who support the club have to accept the bad with the good with the speedy defender. I’m not saying you can’t complain, or hold him accountable if he makes a mistake. I am saying that he does some good things and perhaps one game we’ll get lucky and he’ll deliver some incredible crosses. It’s just crazy enough to happen.