Orlando City announced this afternoon that midfielder Sebas Mendez has been traded to Los Angeles FC for $300,000 in General Allocation Money. If certain contract conditions are met, the Lions will receive $225,000 in GAM in 2023 and $225,000 more in GAM in 2024. Additionally, Orlando City will receive a portion of Mendez’s transfer fee if LAFC sells him at a later date.
“We want to thank Seba for the effort and dedication he’s shown us throughout his time here in Orlando,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s been an incredibly important player for us these past three-and-a-half years, both on and off the field. He joined us as a young player back in 2019, with belief in the project we were building and made the commitment to join us despite having multiple clubs pursuing him. We wish him nothing but the very best and look forward to seeing all he achieves as he moves forward with his career.”
Orlando City acquired the Ecuadorian international on Dec. 28, 2018 and his contract was due to expire following the 2022 MLS season. In three-and-a-half seasons in purple, the 25-year-old defensive midfielder made 83 appearances (72 MLS, one MLS Cup playoff, six U.S. Open Cup, and four MLS is Back knockout games) with 60 starts and accumulated 5,119 minutes. His lone goal for the Lions came on Nov. 7, 2021 in the final game of the season against CF Montreal — a goal that lifted the team into the playoffs. His only assist came on Aug. 6, 2020 in the semifinal of the MLS is Back Tournament against Minnesota United.
Mendez was a regular starter for Orlando City after joining the team in 2019. He started 20 of his 23 MLS appearances in 2019, 11 of his 19 MLS appearances in 2020, and 15 of his 17 appearances in 2021. However, he was replaced in the starting lineup by 21-year-old Uruguayan defensive midfielder Cesar Araujo, who was signed prior to the 2022 MLS season. As a result, Mendez has only started five of his 13 games played this season.
In addition to being behind Araujo in the Lions’ pecking order, Mendez was also behind Brazilian Junior Urso, who also serves as the team’s vice captain. As a result, Mendez was likely unhappy with his playing time and preferred to join a team that could guarantee more time on the field. In two of Mendez’s three seasons in Orlando, he averaged more than 70 minutes per appearance. His time on the field this season was down to just over 30 minutes.
What It Means for Orlando
This move doesn’t help Orlando City’s defensive midfield depth, which already has a lack of bodies. The other two defensive midfielders behind Urso and Araujo are Andres Perea and Joey DeZart. However, Perea has been used more in an attacking role recently and DeZart left OCB’s game Sunday evening in the 34th minute with a knock.
It’s unknown how long DeZart will be sidelined with his latest injury, so this move means that Perea will be the lone backup defensive midfielder in a team that usually starts two players in that position. Since no comparable players were received in the deal, the team will likely be in the market for a defensive midfielder to create some depth at that position.
Given his lack of playing time and the lack of depth at that position, it’s easy to assume that Mendez was unhappy with his lack of playing time and asked for a trade. However, LAFC seems to have wanted him as the Los Angeles side gave up a substantial amount of GAM, which could become more in the coming two years. Whether this move turns out to be positive depends on if the team can replace Mendez on the roster with a quality defensive midfielder. It will also depend on how much GAM the club receives and how that money is used. But that might not be known for a couple of years.
The club does need help in multiple areas and this could be a move designed to free up the club to make a signing elsewhere, if not in central midfield. Urso can spell Araujo as the No. 6, allowing Perea to play Urso’s usual role, so there is at least some coverage even without DeZart. The Lions have been linked to Nico Gioacchini in a recent report by Tom Bogert of mlssoccer.com, but another attacking piece could now be brought in to provide balance on the wing. Mendez’s guaranteed salary for 2022 was $636,750 — a significant amount.
For now, we’ll wait to see what, if any, moves follow this one.