The bad news is that Antonio Carlos is set to miss anywhere from three to four months with the hamstring injury that he picked up during Orlando City’s 4-2 loss to LAFC. The good news is that he won’t need surgery, which was a possibility before the club made the official announcement on Thursday. The potentially good news is that his absence provides an opportunity for other defenders on the roster to step in and step up.
The two men who stand to get more share of the responsibility in Carlos’ absence are Rodrigo Schlegel and Thomas Williams. Schlegel in particular will be expected to take over in the immediacy, which we already saw a little of when he was brought on to replace the injured Brazilian last weekend. The Argentine is no stranger to game time, as he made 23 appearances in the league last season, 16 of which were starts. He’s also played enough games with Robin Jansson that the two shouldn’t need to work too much on building chemistry on the fly. While Schlegel didn’t have his best game in an Orlando City shirt on Saturday, he also came into the match completely cold against the team that has a two-point lead at the top of the Western Conference with a game in hand on second place.
Now, 17-year-old Thomas Williams will have to slot into the role of being the first center back off the bench. That means that he’ll likely see time in games should Jansson or Schlegel accumulate too many yellow cards, and may see some spot starts when fixture congestion becomes an issue. There’s also now a very good chance we see him in the U.S. Open Cup. Williams logged serious minutes during preseason this year and he’ll now be expected to contribute to games that mean something in the standings.
Obviously, it’s a good opportunity for Schlegel, who could likely start on several teams around the league. For me though, the one who benefits the most from this situation is Williams. It was always possible that Williams might make some appearances this year either in the Open Cup or in dying embers of games when OCSC held a comfortable lead. Now though, it’s all but certain that Williams is going to get very valuable first-team playing time when he’s only 17. The biggest thing, when it comes to the development and growth of young players, is game minutes. The fact that Williams is going to get exactly that might be very beneficial to his development.
Of course, those chances to play still need to translate into good performances. We can talk all we want about how it’s now time for the next man up, but unless that next man does a good job, it’s going to cost Orlando City points. Schlegel and Williams will be asked to immediately play well against strong competition, as the team’s next three games are against teams which are currently fourth, fifth, and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively. Iron is more than capable of sharpening iron though, and if the two can raise their games, it’ll be good both for them and for Orlando City.