The 2022 Major League Soccer season is about to kick off. Break out your scarves, grab your new Sunshine kit and prepare to celebrate Orlando City’s return to Exploria Stadium for the club’s eighth year in MLS and first full year under new family ownership Wilf.
Orlando City is coming off back-to-back playoffs but had a disappointing end to the 2021 campaign and pulled out of the playoffs after just one game, falling to Nashville. The club lost a considerable part of their attack in the off-season with the departure of Chris Mueller to Scotland, the sale of star striker Daryl Dike to West Brom and the decision not to take up the option on the 35-year-old winger. Nani’s contract. The rear, however, remains intact.
Let’s take a look at Orlando City’s transition from 2021 to 2022.
How did the city of Orlando end in 2021?
The Lions finished sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 13-9-12 record and 51 points, which is a club record for wins and points. The team finished lower in the standings than in 2020, when they finished the season in fourth position, but that was in a shorter season. Orlando set club records for home wins (8) and clean sheets (9) in 2021 but struggled a bit to drop a position for a playoff home game, dropping four in a row in September – the longest such streak under Oscar Paréja. Even though the Lions have only lost once in their last eight regular season games, Orlando City have drawn four of those games to score valuable points. The club lost leads in three of those draws, although the last should have been won on a late Andres Perea goal which was ruled out after a video review looked anything but a clear and obvious mistake.
Following the tie in that last home game, the Lions needed a road win in Montreal to clinch a playoff berth and they managed to secure a 2-0 win to get there. However, despite an early goal from Dike in the playoff game in Nashville, the Lions lacked sharpness in offense and mistakes cost dearly in a 3-1 first-round loss, resulting in a quick exit in the playoffs.
The Head Coach:
Oscar Pareja begins his third season at the helm. Papi is 24-13-20 as head coach of Orlando City over two years and although he led the team to the playoffs in his two seasons in charge, he has a record 0-2-1 in three postseason games, with a shootout victory after the only draw in 2020.
F, Ercan Kara
F, Faculty Torres
MF, Cesar Araujo
F, Daryl Dike
F, Chris Muller
MF, Uri Rosell
D, Emmanuel Mas
Projected Best XI:
Pareja likes to mix up his forms and even when using a “standard” form it often looks different as Ruan essentially plays a hybrid wingback/fullback stance to maximize his strengths. City’s best formation at this stage appears to be a modified 4-4-2 with Alexandre Pato playing under new Designated Player striker Ercan Kara, but it can also work as a 4-2-3-1 with Pato playing wider .
Pedro Gallese; Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Sebas Mendez, Cesar Araujo, Alexandre Pato, Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres, Ercan Kara.
Best Off-Season Move:
It may be too early to tell, but the best move this offseason seems to be adding Torres on a Designated Youth deal. The 21-year-old Uruguayan arrived with a club-record transfer fee and has an incredible advantage. He has the potential to replace the production that left the club with Nani in a younger and faster package.
If it’s not Torres, it’s probably target forward Kara, who is 6-foot-4 and has excellent skills in hold-up play and connecting with his teammates in the final third. He will be counted on to replace Dike’s lost double-digit goalscoring talent.
Best reason to pay attention:
Beginners. Orlando City have added two extremely young South American imports in Torres and Araujo and a relatively young DP striker in Kara, who is 26. The 2022 squad has a proven goalkeeper, back line and central midfielder. He also has a proven string puller in the No. 10 Pereyra. The biggest unknown is what the young additions will bring to the team, and the key to this year’s team staying in playoff positions is how quickly Torres and Kara adapt and can provide the offense that the Lions need to replace.
Orlando City’s only glaring weakness:
The biggest concern for Lions fans should be whether the club have done enough to replace the attack provided by Nani, Dike and Mueller. Kara and Torres are both having to adjust to new leagues and haven’t had much time to settle due to mid-camp arrivals and extra time off the pitch for Kara due to her injury to the peg. The duo need to gel with their new teammates on the fly and Orlando’s lack of offense in pre-season is easily attributed to Kara and Torres still not being on the same page. And that third member of the triumvirate needed to replace the attacking starters never materialized, so the team will need a combination of Pato, Benji Michel and Silvester van der Water to have a big jump in production to make up for everything. miss to win.
Orlando City’s greatest strength:
In a word: defense. The entire back line and goalkeeper Pedro Gallese are back. Gallese is one of the best stoppers in the league and the central defense returns the partnership of Brazilian Antonio Carlos and Swede Robin Jansson for a third year together. Starting full-backs Ruan and Joao Moutinho also have good chemistry with the Carlos-Jansson duo. Added to this is the return of Sebas Mendez, who is emerging as a force in central midfield. He and veteran Junior Urso have proven effective in protecting the back line and helping limit scoring chances. MLS U22 Initiative midfielder Araujo also appears to have the ability to step in and help protect the back five and at 20 is yet to reach his potential as a professional.
A fact to impress your friends:
Orlando City finished the season with a top-five offense in the Eastern Conference in the two seasons since Pareja became head coach. It’s something the club had only done once before his arrival, in 2016.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe character who most personifies this team:
I’ll say Ant-Man here. The Lions are still relatively new when it comes to their inclusion as a team in the top half of the league. Like Ant-Man, you’re never really sure if you can trust them to spectacularly succeed or fail at the crucial moment, even if it tends to work in the end. They often get the job done, but not always in a way fans would expect or even want. This all sounds like an Ant-Man comparison in my opinion.
This will do it for this year’s preview. Buckle up and get ready to find out what kind of team Orlando City has for 2022. It may be a bumpier ride than what we’ve seen in the past two seasons, especially at the start of the year.