Designated Players are on the field to change games in big ways. Since the departure of Nani, that’s not something Orlando City has really had. Before you call for my head, I want to stress that the previous sentence is not meant to be a slight on Ercan Kara, Mauricio Pereyra or Facundo Torres. In fact, the trio is leading MLS in overall DP goals + assists. Let me explain.
Pereyra is an excellent player, and at present he is probably the most important component of Orlando’s success when the team plays well. His nine assists in 17 games speak to that plenty, and his range of passing and ability with the ball at his feet are often the key to unlocking opposing defenses. He has his limits though, with speed being the primary one — completely understandable for a 32-year-old. He also doesn’t score very much — he only has three in 68 regular-season appearances for the Lions.
Kara also has his limits. While he might look like Daryl Dike in that he’s big and strong, he’s far more reliant on good, consistent service to get his goals. So far, he hasn’t shown the ability to beat defenders 1-on-1 or create his own shot in the manner that Orlando City fans grew accustomed to with Dike. That’s completely fine. With seven tallies so far, Kara has shown that he’s more than aware of where the goal is, and after all, Daryl Dikes do not grow on trees.
In short, Pereyra is on the field to get the ball in good positions to score. while Kara is out there to put those chances into the back of the net. To this point in the season, both have done so extremely well, and given what we know of them, any goals from Mauricio and assists from Ercan can almost be considered bonuses to what their main jobs are.
That brings us to Torres. Of Orlando’s three DPs — and he’s a Young DP, meaning he’s not yet a finished product — he is the one with the most potential for game-breaking acts of ability. He’s a great dribbler, has the skill to beat defenders, is a great crosser of the ball, and can score from outside the box — hell, he’s even shown the ability to score with his head. In short, he has the ability to do the jobs of both Kara and Pereyra. At 22 years of age, he still has plenty of time to develop and become even better, which is good. Especially since, as I said before, for most of the time since his arrival, he hasn’t really been a game-changer for the Lions. That was not the case on Monday night though.
Oscar Pareja tried to use a home game against the worst team in the league to give Facu and Cesar Araujo some rest. To quote Bane, the strategy was admirable, but mistaken, and Papi even admitted as much. When Facu entered the game at halftime, Orlando was down 2-0, but it didn’t stay that way for long and in the 51st minute, the good guys were down 3-0. Six minutes later though, Pereyra sucked in the D.C. defense on the right side of the box, and Torres recognized where the open space was. He stepped into it, received the ball, took a touch, and steered a shot low into the net to pull one back for OCSC. Eight minutes after that, he put a free kick almost directly onto Kara’s head for the big Austrian to get Orlando within a goal of the visitors. Just over 20 minutes on the field and he’d been involved in two goals, completely changing the game for the Lions and demonstrating his potent and varied skillset in the process.
Torres has had big contributions before now, with his extra-time equalizer against Miami and his two assists against the Columbus Crew springing readily to mind. Pereyra and Kara have also both made plenty of big contributions during their time wearing purple. But Torres’ performance on July 4 was the first time this season that an Orlando City player has truly taken over a game, and certainly the first time we’ve seen Torres do so. Orlando ultimately lost, but if not for Robin Jansson’s difficulty corralling his own rebounded shot later in the game, the Lions might have drawn or even won the game considering the way Torres swung the momentum in the favor of the hosts.
It was exactly the sort of performance you need out of a DP like Torres, and a massively encouraging sign. He hasn’t been bad by any means since his arrival, but he hasn’t lit the league on fire either. In many ways, that was to be expected. He’s a 22-year-old playing in a foreign league for the first time, and at 5-foot-7 and 157 pounds, there was always a good chance he would need time to adjust to the physicality of Major League Soccer. Monday’s loss against D.C. gave us our first glimpse of the type of player he can truly be for the Lions.
Let me reiterate that none of this is intended as slander towards Orlando’s two other Designated Players. So far, both have done what they were signed to do, with some expected variations on a game-to-game basis. Torres has also played his part in Orlando’s success — three goals and six assists in 17 games aren’t anything to turn your nose up at. But given what we saw against D.C., we might one day look back on Monday night as the first in a (hopefully) long line of times where El Cuervo was the game-changing force Orlando City needed him to be. Damn, is that an exciting thought.