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Orlando City Has Two Key Roles to Fill Off the Bench

Orlando City will need to replace the attacking roles Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel played as substitutes last season.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / / USA TODAY NETWORK

Orlando City is making changes in multiple positions heading into 2023, including at forward. While starting Designated Player Ercan Kara returns, the team declined the option on Tesho Akindele, didn’t re-sign Alexandre Pato, and Benji Michel departed for Portugal. As a result, Orlando will have to replace some key traits late in games at the position.

Kara was the primary forward last season, starting 25 of the team’s 41 games across all competitions and leading the team with 11 goals in league play. However, the 27-year-old Austrian only played 90 minutes in five of those 25 games. The remaining appearances saw him removed late in games, usually for Akindele, Michel, or Pato.

Akindele and Michel brought different attributes to the team that proved pivotal late in games. At 6-foot-1, Akindele was good at holding up play, allowing the midfielders to get involved in the attack. The Homegrown Michel was the team’s speedster and energy boost up top, putting pressure on the opposition’s back line. Either player could replace Kara to provide what the team needed to pull out the three points.

The best options to replace Akindele’s hold-up role are probably two young draft picks. Jack Lynn was selected in the first round in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft out of Notre Dame. He played most of the 2022 season with Orlando City B, setting a new team record for goals in a season. However, he barely saw the field with the first team.

The Lions took another forward in the first round this year, selecting reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Duncan McGuire from Creighton. The 22-year-old has played significant minutes during the preseason, but has yet to sign a first-team contract, although that is expected ahead of the season opener.

One or both of these players are likely to fill the role of Akindele because of their size. While Lynn is similar in size to Akindele, McGuire is a bit heavier, potentially making him even more suitable for this role to hold up play against MLS center backs.

The other addition to the forwards this season is U-22 Initiative signing Ramiro Enrique. The 21-year-old Argentine is listed as a forward, but can also play on the wing. He’s the fastest of these three options, but he’s only 5-foot-7. His size and speed make him more likely to pressure defenders and use his mobility to create chances, similar to Michel.

Enrique’s speed and ability on the wing could make him a wingback, but Ivan Angulo has dropped back to the right wingback position at times this preseason and Luca Petrasso has been serving as left wingback. The club also has Michael Halliday and Rafael Santos at those positions as well. Since Enrique joined the team late while awaiting his visa, it’s unknown how Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja plans to use him. But we’re less than a week from the start of the season, so he’ll likely begin at least the first few games on the bench.

The other option at the forward position is Shak Mohammed, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. Standing 5-foot-10, he’s between the other forwards in size, but has been playing in the midfield this preseason. As a result, he’s more likely to back up Martin Ojeda and Facundo Torres than Kara.

Regardless of the lineup and how players are used, the team will need hold-up play and speed up top late in games. With the departure of the two best substitutes with these attributes, Orlando City will have to find out which players will fill those roles in 2023.