Orlando City announced this morning that forward Alexandre Pato will have exploratory knee surgery following an injury suffered last weekend. The Brazilian has returned to his home country for the procedure, which will take place on Sept. 9 and a timetable for his potential return is currently unavailable.
The 32-year-old’s injury occurred in the 41st minute of the Lions’ 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena last weekend. Facundo Torres played the ball across for Pato, who quickly tried to get a shot on goal. Dru Yearwood came in to block the shot and the two had contact. As a result, Pato was stretchered off the field and replaced in the game.
“Pato is an incredible competitor and we’re sad to see him suffer this injury. But we know he will work to get back on the field even stronger,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “We’re ready to support and help him in every way necessary through his recovery.”
Orlando City initially signed the former Brazil and AC Milan striker on Feb. 13, 2021 to a one-year deal. It was a potentially risky signing as the striker has had a lengthy injury history and it didn’t take long before he suffered his first injury in purple — although instead of his previous typical muscle injuries, this was a structural one.
In the first game of the 2021 MLS season, Pato suffered a right knee injury in the 80th minute against Atlanta United. He didn’t return to the gameday roster until Oct. 16 against FC Cincinnati, missing 27 matches. Even after returning, Pato only came off the bench in four of the final games of the season.
Despite the disappointment of his injury-plagued 2021 season, Orlando City re-signed the forward to another one-year contract on Jan. 15, 2022. Part of that decision was likely due to a lack of returning attacking options after the decision not to exercise Nani’s option, Chris Mueller left for Hibernian FC in Scotland, and Daryl Dike departed for West Bromwich Albion in England.
“Pato’s ability is proven and we know the untapped potential in what he can bring to our team,” Muzzi said at the time. “He’s been working hard to return to top form and we’re looking forward to him having an impactful year for the Club. We’re excited for him to return and play an important role both on the field and in the locker room this season.”
It seemed to be an excellent decision, as Pato got his 2022 MLS campaign off to a great start. The Brazilian scored the opening goal of a 2-0 win over CF Montreal on Feb. 27 to open the season. He went on to a three-game point streak between March 27 and April 9 with a goal against Los Angeles FC and assists against the Portland Timbers and the Chicago Fire.
Unfortunately, his play and confidence seemed to dip following that streak. After impacting four goals in the first seven games, he’s only impacted three in the last 18 games, recording two assists and scoring once on a penalty kick.
What This Means for Orlando
While Pato has struggled as of late, this is difficult news for the Lions. The team has struggled offensively this season. Orlando City’s total of 28 goals scored is tied for the least in the Eastern Conference and second-least in MLS. Losing another attacking option, especially one that has recorded three goals and six assists this season, is not what the team is looking for during a playoff fight.
Following the procedure, Orlando City will have five games remaining in the regular season. It’s hard to see him returning by the end of the 2022 season and, at 32 years old and with two knee injuries in those two years, the club is likely to part ways with him when his contract ends at the end of the season.
Pato had found himself a regular in Oscar Pareja’s starting lineup over the past four games after the team’s 5-1 rout of the Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal. The Brazilian has been playing the number 10 role behind Benji Michel. This news means that Pareja will now have to change his lineup and find someone else to fill that role — likely returning Mauricio Pereyra to that spot.