Orlando City is a better team when speedy right back Ruan is on his game. That was never more apparent than his (hopefully) breakout performance on Saturday against Charlotte FC. Ruan’s goal and assist showed that when he’s playing with confidence and precision, he can be an effective addition to Oscar Pareja’s offense, even when the attackers aren’t having their best day.
The Lions have gotten off to a decent start in 2022 despite having a completely rebuilt attack with a new Designated Player striker, Ercan Kara; a Young DP winger, Facundo Torres; and a versatile attacking veteran who barely played last year, Alexandre Pato. The offense was expected to be a work in progress — and still very much is — and has sputtered at times this season. The forwards and wingers have struggled to find space in among the opposition’s defensive shape.
That’s where Ruan comes in.
Whether bombing up the right flank to get to the end line for a cutback pass, launching in crosses from the wide space, or providing a lethal counter-attack threat, the 26-year-old fullback’s pace makes him a dangerous part of Orlando City’s attack. That lethality had been largely missing in action up until Saturday. We’ve seen it in past seasons, but the speedy Brazilian was not displaying his best form to start the year and even had fans calling for more minutes for backup Kyle Smith.
And not without good reason.
When Ruan’s not helping the attack, he can be a liability in defending at times, which was on full display against LAFC. Those who only saw the final score and didn’t watch the match would assume the visitors dominated Orlando throughout the match, rather than the other way around. The Lions played some of the best soccer they’ve ever shown, but they lacked precision with that final pass or shot, and LAFC cashed in on a miniscule number of scoring opportunities. Ruan provided one of those LAFC chances outright with an ill-advised, wayward header in his own box, and he played a large role in not snuffing out another.
An in-form Ruan changes Orlando’s attack drastically. And it should be noted that he’s never going to be the pinpoint-accurate crosser or have the soft touch with his feet that we all want, because if he had those weapons in his arsenal, he’d be at one of Europe’s big clubs rather than in MLS. But Ruan must be sharp enough on offense to attack with confidence and he must make the right decisions when he gets in the final third, as he certainly did on Orlando’s second goal Saturday.
Ruan could have gone for goal himself to try to produce his first MLS brace. After all, he was 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper. However, the Brazilian not only wisely chose to give Torres a tap-in, but he also made no mistake with his pass. His layoff made Torres’ job easy, whereas an off-line or poorly weighted pass there could have prevented a goal and eventually changed the outcome of the match.
Orlando’s offense isn’t exactly clicking right now. The Lions have only attempted 10 shots over the last two games combined, with just four on target. Saturday, Charlotte effectively isolated Kara from the attack, especially in the second half, and limited Benji Michel and Torres. Junior Urso wasn’t able to get into the attacking third much and push the attack forward in his box-to-box role, either.
“We’re still accommodating some players’ connections, but offensively, we’re not there yet,” Pareja said after Saturday’s win over Charlotte. “This year, that adaptation and that connection has been less fluid. It’s just taking time for us to connect.”
Despite a disjointed looking offense on Saturday, Ruan’s contributions enabled the team to score two goals, with the right back playing a direct role in both. He was able to sneak in on the back side of the play and score an easy goal on the first, and, on the counter just before halftime, he was able to blaze past Charlotte’s defense, draw the keeper toward him, and feed the ball to Torres. If he can continue to show that kind of threat level, he can put pressure on the opposing defensive shape, which provides space for Orlando’s skilled attacking players to move into, thereby opening up the offense.
After eight rather lackluster matches, during which he produced just one assist, Ruan is back on track to have his most productive offensive season in an Orlando City uniform. He only needs one goal to match last season’s MLS career high, and he’s just three assists off his personal best of five, which he set in 2019. If he can routinely display the threat from the right that he showed against Charlotte, Orlando City is obviously a much more dangerous team — even when the forwards are locked down or having an off day.
Pareja and Orlando City fans will hope the Flash can maintain — or even build upon — the level he reached on Saturday.