Quite frankly, I didn’t think a week ago that I’d watch much, if any, of the Russian Premier League this year, but here we are.
Last week, Orlando City announced the signing of 29-year-old attacking midfielder Mauricio Pereyra on a two-year contract that’ll have him in purple through at least the 2020 season. Orlando’s second summer signing comes during a time when the team has been searching for goals, struggling to keep pace with its defense, which has been among the best in MLS this season.
More so, they’re hoping it’s the answer to a problem they’ve been trying to solve for much of their existence in MLS: having a real creative, play-making midfielder that can hit the final ball and set up goals. The Lions have had this level of talent before through several players over the last five season — Kaká, Kevin Molino, and Yoshimar Yotun, to name a few — but consistency has been the biggest issue in that area.
Nani has brought a spark at times to the field this season but asking a 32-year-old winger to be the offensive catalyst and goal scorer can be a bit much at times, and Chris Mueller has proven to be one of the best up-and-coming American wingers in the league, but in the midfield Orlando has lacked those players.
That’s where they’re hoping Pereyra can step in.
I’ve spent a good bit of time digging through videos of Pereyra and trying to see what I can take away from it, and the short version is this: he’s talented, he has some fight in him on defense, and he has a great vision for the field in front of him.
He’s not a goal-scorer outside of the occasional bounce to his feet in the box or long-range strike (see below), poaching a rebound outside of the box.
His biggest strength is undoubtedly his passing skills, where dropping long-range balls over the top are one of his specialties. In the 2018/19 Russian Premier League season for FC Krasnodar, he averaged 3.2 long ball passes per game, the highest average of his career, across 21 appearances (five starts), with a career-high in through balls per game (0.3), and key passes per game total (1.9) good for the second-best season of his career.
These numbers are unsurprising given his keen ability to get the ball in the middle of the field, pick up his head and find the striker making a run through the middle of the defense to pick out with a ball over the top.
As we see in the clip below, Pereyra wins a loose ball and immediately recognizes the forward making that run off the back shoulder of the centerback next to him.
Not only does this bring another layer to Orlando City’s attack, where the Lions have already evolved into being able to play on the ground and through the wings, but now they have a player in the midfield that can play direct.
As much as James O’Connor is probably delighted by the signing, a guy like Dom Dwyer could be equally as excited as a guy who’s good at making this runs in behind the defense. It’s been a rough season for Dwyer, but maybe another avenue of service could be what finally helps him break through his depressing slump.
The Lions don’t have to change much about the way they play, being able to slot Pereyra right into the midfield of the 4-3-3 alongside what is usually the duo of Will Johnson and Sebastian Mendez, bringing far more balance to the midfield, where it’s typically more defensive-minded.
There are many things that will go into determining whether or not this signing works out, but on paper he makes Orlando City better all around, giving the team another hand in the attack while also being able to pitch in defensively as well.
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