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Meet the 2023 Lions of Orlando City

Get to know your 2023 roster, because there are a lot of new faces and numbers. Internationals, DPs, and HGPs, and U22s, oh my!

Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City’s roster is set for the club’s ninth season in Major League Soccer. MLS rosters are comprised of up to 30 players who are all eligible for selection to the game-day squad during the regular season and playoffs. The Lions list 29 players. While it might be tempting to ask why not use all 30 slots, it pays to keep in mind that MLS is a salary cap league.

To the extent that the league’s available online information is up to date, the following is the 2023 squad who will start the season as Lions, who counts as an international, who the Designated Players and MLS U22 Initiative players are, etc. We’ve even supplied the numbers so you can get your custom jerseys made.

Position listed is from the official designation by MLS, although players may obviously play in different spots than what is listed. Let’s meet the 2023 Lions in numerical order, as grouped by position from back to front.

Goalkeepers (3)

1 Pedro Gallese – International

El Pulpo returns for his fourth year in purple since leaving Alianza Lima, which had loaned him out to Veracruz. That club got disaffiliated and Orlando reaped the benefits. The Peruvian international is the best goalkeeper in club history and his return should provide some stability in the back despite having new starting fullbacks on either side of him. Despite having played here for a few years, Gallese is still on the club’s list of internationals.

31 Mason Stajduhar – Homegrown

There might not be a better story in Orlando City’s history than Stajduhar’s. The Homegrown struggled with some injuries early in his pro career and then was blindsided by a diagnosis of Localized Ewing Sarcoma — a type of bone cancer. After undergoing treatment, Stajduhar worked his way back into form, became the primary backup to Gallese, and capped it off with an amazing shootout victory in the U.S. Open Cup in 2022, proposing to his girlfriend after the game (she said yes and they’ve since been married). Like the Lions, the 25-year-old enters his ninth season in the league.

99 Adam Grinwis

Grinny is back as the third goalkeeper for Orlando City. The 30-year-old will be in his sixth MLS season but might get more playing time with OCB than the senior Lions if the guys in front of him stay healthy. Even if he never plays another minute for City, Grinwis will forever be a club folk hero for his penalty shootout performance in the U.S. Open Cup against New York City FC back on July 10, 2019 (the “Running of the Wall” game).

Defenders (9)

3 Rafael Santos – International

One of the club’s newest faces — he’s literally only been in town a matter of days — Ramos joins from Brazilian side Cruzeiro (although he was on loan with Coritiba last year). Signed Jan. 5, Santos had to wait for his international paperwork and it took a bit longer than expected. He’ll be playing catch-up to start the season as Luca Petrasso has been playing well throughout preseason camp in the left back spot. Those two will battle to occupy the spot left behind by Joao Moutinho, who left for Italy’s Serie A.

6 Robin Jansson

The Beefy Swede is back for his fifth year in the City Beautiful and it’s hard to believe he’s been here that long. One of the steadiest center backs in the club’s MLS history, Jansson is returning from foot surgery. If the 31-year-old can stay healthy and stop yapping at the referee, he’ll be counted on to provide phenomenal long passes that ignite the offense and the kind of steady defense he’s been known for in his time since joining the club from Swedish side AIK.

15 Rodrigo Schlegel

Club legend Rodri Schlegel enters his fourth year with Orlando City. All he’s done so far is fill in as goalkeeper during a playoff penalty shootout and send a U.S. Open Cup match into extra time with a 94th-minute equalizer against Nashville last year, helping extend the Lions’ run to the eventual trophy. The best center back off the bench in club history and one of the current best third central defenders in the league is a high-risk, high-reward player. Just 25 years old, Schlegel is entering his prime as a center back and will hopefully continue the growth he’s shown since arriving from Racing Club in his native Argentina.

24 Kyle Smith

Whether you call him The Accountant or El Soldado, Oscar Pareja’s Swiss Army Knife is back for his fifth MLS season — all with Orlando. Smith has been forced into far too many matches the last two seasons. He’s versatile enough to play multiple positions. Last year, he chipped in two goals, which was a career high, but more importantly those were both late game-winning goals against Toronto and Seattle. A fantastic team player, the 31-year-old plugs in wherever he’s needed and although he does many things well while not necessarily being master of any one thing, he’s shown his value over the years, whether by making a vital goal-line clearance or scoring the aforementioned late winners.

25 Antonio Carlos

Brazilian center back Antonio Carlos is back for his fourth season with Orlando City. The 29-year-old has formed an outstanding partnership with Jansson in central defense, but he’ll likely miss the first week (at least) with a knock to his lower right leg. I was told earlier this week it’s not expected to be a long-term thing, but with Orlando City’s track record on revealing injury information, that might mean he’ll miss one game or five. The Lions are a much better defensive team with the Brazilian in the lineup. He’s the best defender in the air on the Orlando City roster, has great mobility for recovery during transition opportunities, and doesn’t often lose focus.

26 Michael Halliday – Homegrown

Mikey Halliday enters a critical season for him in his professional career. After signing a Homegrown Player deal during the summer of 2020, Halliday played with OCB and has split time between the senior side and the developmental squad over the course of the last two seasons. With the departure of Ruan in the off-season, the time is now for the 20-year-old Halliday to seize the starting right back spot. I’m not saying it’s a make-or-break season for the young defender, simply that it’s a good opportunity for the U.S. youth international to take a big step forward.

28 Abdi Salim

A 2023 MLS SuperDraft selection, 21-year-old defender Abdi Salim signed a one-year contract with three club option years on Feb. 14. The athletic and versatile rookie can play either inside or outside on the back line. He performed well in the preseason and the first-round pick may have earned the No. 4 center back spot. We’ll have to see what Pareja does if he’s missing two of his top three center backs. On second thought, let’s hope we don’t find out.

30 Alex Freeman – Homegrown

It’s probably still too early to see much of 18-year-old defender Alex Freeman with the senior team in 2023. Freeman signed his Homegrown Player deal just over a year ago on Feb. 15, 2022. The contract runs through the 2025 season, so the club obviously giving the youngster time to develop his game. He’s expected to be a depth option behind Halliday and Smith.

68 Thomas Williams – Homegrown

At 6-foot-3, Williams cuts a towering figure among Orlando City’s defenders. The 18-year-old got some brief tastes of MLS soccer in 2022, logging 181 minutes. He’s on the second year of a three-year Homegrown Player contract that also includes an option year in 2025. Williams is just 18 and the club can afford to be patient with his development. He’ll be a depth option in 2023 but might be a regular with OCB.

Midfielders (11)

5 Cesar Araujo – International, MLS U22 Initiative

Orlando City signed Araujo to an MLS U22 Initiative deal on Jan. 7, 2022 and turned out to be a plug-and-play option for the Lions a year ago. He walked right into the team and took Sebas Mendez’s starting position, excelling as the club’s defensive stopper in central midfield. Araujo enters his second season with the Lions and if the 21-year-old continues to develop and excel in MLS, European teams will come calling soon. For now, he’s in Orlando and although he’s working on getting his green card, he’ll start the season requiring an international slot.

8 Felipe Martins

A new addition to the midfield, the Lions signed veteran Felipe Martins (generally referred to merely as “Felipe”) to a one-year deal with a club option for 2024 on Nov. 22, 2022. The 32-year-old Brazilian provides coverage in the central midfield after the departures of Junior Urso and Joey DeZart. The former Austin FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York Red Bulls, and Montreal Impact midfielder brings a wealth of experience to the roster.

10 Mauricio Pereyra – International

Team captain Mauricio Pereyra transitioned from a Designated Player to a Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract this past off-season, opening up a slot for the Lions to sign Martin Ojeda. The 32-year-old Uruguayan is a respected leader on the pitch and has been transitioning into a deeper-lying playmaker role since the middle of 2022. He enters his fifth season in Orlando after being acquired in the secondary transfer window during the 2019 campaign.

11 Martin Ojeda – International, Designated Player

One of the exciting new faces on the team is Designated Player Martin Ojeda. The 24-year-old Argentine joins Orlando from Godoy Cruz in his country’s top flight. He requires both a DP and an international slot on the roster. Ojeda has been acclimating through the preseason and has impressed. He should combine well with the Lions’ other attacking options once he settles in.

14 Shak Mohammed – Generation Adidas

The Lions drafted Shakur Mohammed with the No. 2 overall selection in 2023. The Generation Adidas player was considered by many as the attacking player with the most upside. By virtue of being a GA signing, Mohammed won’t count against the MLS senior roster. The versatile Ghanaian from Duke University can play up top or on the wing. At only 19 years old, he won’t have to rush his development with a wealth of attack-minded options on the roster.

16 Wilder Cartagena – International

Cartagena enters his second season with Orlando City after being acquired on loan from Al-Ittihad Kalba SC and the Lions exercised the club’s option to extend the loan through 2023 in a move that was announced on Nov. 14, 2022. The 28-year-old Peruvian provides versatility in the midfield with his ability to play either a defensive or a box-to-box role. He can even play center back in a pinch, which he did some this preseason. Cartagena requires an international slot.

17 Facundo Torres – Designated Player

Although the MLS site hasn’t updated his status, I’m told that Torres has gotten his green card and will not count as an international on the roster. However, he does occupy one of Orlando City’s three DP slots. The Uruguayan international returns for his second season in the City Beautiful after some flirtations from European clubs in the off-season. Another solid season will no doubt earn him some offers. The former Peñarol star will be a focus of opposing defenses in 2023 as he was last season (although he was still successful offensively).

20 Luca Petrasso – Homegrown

Although listed among the midfielders on the MLS roster page, Petrasso will primarily deploy as a left back or left wingback, although he could play as a winger if needed. A new face on the back line, Petrasso arrived from Toronto FC in a deal on Jan. 11 that saw the Lions send $300,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) the other way, with the possibility of another $50,000 in GAM going to the Reds if certain performance metrics are met. He is the favorite to start at left back in place of the departed Moutinho since Santos arrived late. I’m told the coaching staff is high on Petrasso’s upside and crossing ability.

23 Dagur Dan Thorhallsson – International

Fire up Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to welcome our new import from Iceland. Thorhallsson is a 22-year-old midfielder who was signed from Breidablik in his country’s top flight on Jan. 31. He enters the first season of his two-year contract in 2023 and requires an international roster slot. The club’s new No. 23 has the versatility to play as a defensive midfielder, a box-to-box player, a fullback or winger, or even a false 9. He’s a good set piece taker and could add a new dimension to the Lions’ attack. He’s already scored a goal with Orlando City during the preseason.

32 Wilfredo Rivera – Homegrown

It’s a critical year for midfielder Wilfredo Rivera, who signed a Homegrown Player contract in March of 2021 that runs through the end of this season. The club holds option years, but it is imperative for Rivera to entice Orlando City to pick up the first of those options at the end of the 2023 campaign. Will this be the year he gets MLS minutes? It’s more likely the 19-year-old will continue his development with OCB but don’t rule out an early U.S. Open Cup appearance.

77 Ivan Angulo – International

Acquired on loan from Palmeiras in last year’s secondary window, Ivan Angulo is set to remain a Lion through midseason, with the club holding an option to extend his stay for six months. The 23-year-old Colombian winger has displayed an incredible work rate, great pace, an ability to take on defenders on the edge, and a knack for creating scoring chances for his teammates. He also defends well and can recover quickly in transition. The winger has the versatility to serve as a wingback as well. He isn’t clinical enough to score at a high rate, despite getting a goal in the last preseason match, but he does a lot of the dirty work that needs done for a team to have success. It will be interesting to see how he performs, where he plays, whether he is able to hold off Gaston Gonzalez, and if the club will hang onto him or extend his stay at midseason.

Forwards (6)

7 Ramiro Enrique – International, MLS U22 Initiative

One of the last guys to arrive for preseason camp, Ramiro Enrique hasn’t been in Orlando long, but he’ll have some significant expectations on his shoulders, as an addition at the forward position who has spent more than a few minutes playing top-flight soccer. The 21-year-old Argentine was signed from Banfield in the Primera Division on Jan. 26. The club made a significant investment in Enrique, not only using an MLS U22 Initative slot, but also inking him to a three-year contract with two additional club option years. He’ll require an international roster slot for his first season in Orlando.

9 Ercan Kara – Designated Player

Like Torres, Kara was still showing as an international player as of this writing but he just returned from overseas and should now be set with his green card. The Austrian enters his second season with the Lions after signing as a Designated Player on Jan. 27, 2022. He dealt with some injury issues on and off last year that hindered him somewhat, but still managed double-digit goals on a team that didn’t always provide him the best service. Orlando City’s front office tried to help him out by adding Gonzalez last year in the summer window but a knee injury to the young Argentine delayed the start of that partnership. Angulo’s addition helped some, but nothing compared to what the signing of Ojeda should provide.

13 Duncan McGuire

First-round 2023 draft pick Duncan McGuire begins his first professional season after being selected No. 6 overall. McGuire has impressed with his size and work rate in the preseason. McGuire can learn the tricks of the trade from Kara and apply his own considerable skill, which earned him the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy his final year at Creighton.

27 Jack Lynn

Orlando City 2022 draft selection Jack Lynn enters his second professional season. The Notre Dame product spent most of 2022 with Orlando City B, but he made the most of his time there, setting a new OCB record for goals in a season (15). Lynn enters the season as questionable with a left thigh injury. He doesn’t figure to see a lot of first-team minutes, but it’s possible the 23-year-old will surpass his four minutes of action that he had in 2022. He could also factor into the early rounds of the U.S. Open Cup matches.

22 Gaston Gonzalez – MLS U22 Initiative

Argentine winger Gaston Gonzalez figures to make his belated MLS debut after a torn ACL prevented that from happening in 2022. Gonzalez either has his green card by the time this story publishes or he will have it shortly. He’s not currently listed on the MLS site as an international so that may indicate the paperwork has been received. The 21-year-old signed last May through the 2024 season with three club option years. He arrives as an MLS U22 Initiative player, completing the three slots the club has, from Club Atlético Unión de Santa Fe in Argentina’s Primera División.

95 Favian Loyola – Homegrown

One of the most exciting Homegrown signings in Orlando City’s MLS history, the 17-year-old Loyola wowed those who saw him in the MLS Next match during All-Star festivities last season. Loyola was a force for OCB down the stretch of the 2022 season and his future looks bright. He’s unlikely to see much time with the first team in 2023 due to the plethora of attacking signings, but he should feature for OCB throughout the upcoming season. Like Lynn, he’s starting the season with a left thigh injury and enters the first week of the 2023 campaign listed as questionable.

And there you have it. The 2023 Lions are set to embark on a grueling season filled with more competitions than ever before. They will endure blistering hot summer nights, play through rainstorms, and will seek new trophies and accomplishments with the assembled talent. How quickly that talent finds some chemistry will go a long way toward determining how the season goes. Step one of the journey takes place tonight at Exploria Stadium at 7:30 p.m. against the New York Red Bulls.