By Brian Maurer
McKinze Gaines (17) and César Araújo (5) battling for the ball (photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)
US Open Cup Champions
Last season, Orlando City won their first trophy as an MLS club by beating the Sacramento Republic 3-0 in the US Open Cup final. Orlando City Forward, Facundo Torres, scored a brace in the final to help them secure the victory. Torres had six goal contributions (4g/2a) during the tournament.
They finished 7th in the Eastern Conference this past season with 48 points (14-6-14). Center forward, Ercan Kara, was their leading goal scorer in MLS (11 goals). Torres had 17 goal contributions in 2022 (9g/8a). They finished the 2022 season with 44 goals for and 53 goals against.
Orlando City had, what MLS pundits have stated, was one of the better offseason overhauls to try and improve on their successes in 2022. They re-signed midfielder Mauricio Pereyra to a new contract that removed his designated player (DP) status. Orlando City then signed a new DP winger, Martín Ojeda. They also signed another forward Ramiro Enrique, MLS free agent midfielder Felipe Martins, midfielder Dagur Dan Thórhallsson, and defender Rafael Santos. They also traded for Luca Petrasso from Toronto FC as well as signed several SuperDraft picks and a homegrown.
All this roster overhaul was to make up for several pieces that were traded, released, or sold from last season. Tesho Akindele, João Moutinho, Alexandre Pato, Benji Michel were all out of contract and not re-signed. Orlando City came to a mutual agreement to terminate Júnior Urso’s contract. They also traded away midfielder Andrés Perea to the Philadelphia Union, and Ruan to DC United. Alexander Alvarado and Jake Mulraney were transferred out of MLS to other leagues.
As you can tell by the extensive list of names coming and going there has been some serious turnover for a team that has now shown an ability to compete and succeed in multiple competitions. While the turnover at Orlando City was high, the expectations set by many pundits and MLS fans are for significant improvement in 2023.
Player’s to Watch
Facundo Torres - As mentioned earlier, Torres is at the heart of Orlando City’s offensive production. The expectations are for him to continue carrying the club with pieces around him, such as newly signed attacker Ojeda, to provide additional attacking support. Orlando City’s attack has gotten off to a slow start, and so has Torres (only one penalty goal so far). Whenever the Uruguayan heats up, so will the Orlando City attack.
Pedro Gallese - Even with Orlando City losing key defensive pieces, they have done a great job of keeping their opposition off the scoresheet. A lot of that early success should be credited to their keeper, Gallese, who has had an exceptional start to the 2023 season. He has made 21 saves in four games across all competitions. Orlando City have allowed 5.9 expected goals (xG), but have only conceded once. His biggest performance so far was his eight saves against Tigres this past week in Mexico during the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), leading Orlando City to a scoreless draw.
Mauricio Pereyra - Even though Pereyra is no longer on a DP contract his distribution is going to continue to be a key to unlocking Orlando City’s attack. Since joining Orlando City in 2019 he has averaged just over two key passes per game. His passing will continue to be a key element to their attack in 2023.
Orlando City’s Starting XI
It will be a little difficult to predict how Orlando City will line up since they have been rotating their squad to compete in CCL against Tigres. Their Week 1 starting lineup against the New York Red Bulls showed them in a 4-2-3-1.
Lineup image found at MLSsoccer.com
While MLS showed them in a 4-2-3-1, their passing network and positioning showed them setting up in more of a 4-3-3 with a single pivot. Ojeda was on the left wing, Pereyra pushed up as an attacking midfielder behind the front three, and Angulo tucked in behind Ojeda on the left.
Passing network image found at MLSsoccer.com
Outlook for 2023
The expectations for Orlando City have grown with their US Open Cup success plus the additions they have made to their roster for 2023. They are off to a bit of a slow start in the attack, but that is not totally unexpected given the new pieces they have added, and their focus being split between MLS and CCL to start the year.
Orlando City will be coming off a midweek CCL match against Tigres. This match will likely be considered their biggest match in club history. Charlotte FC should see this as an opportunity to try and nab at least a point on the road since they will be viewed as the second fiddle to Tigres in terms of Week 4 importance.