Assessing Orlando City’s end-of-season roster decisions

MLS: Orlando City SC at Sporting Kansas City

Photo: Jay Biggerstaff / USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City is getting straight to business this winter.

Just three days into the offseason, the Lions have already re-signed two key starters and on Wednesday announced that the club would be picking up the contract options on 12 players, including the permanent transfers of Rodrigo Schlegel, Andrés Perea, and Alexander Alvarado.

On Tuesday, Orlando City announced new contracts for both Mauricio Pereyra (one year) and Antonio Carlos (three years, with a 4th year option). Additionally, the club declined contract options for Alex De John, Josue Colman, Robinho, and Santiago Patiño, while Dom Dwyer and Brian Rowe are out of contract and eligible for free agency — the club did note that it is in negotiations with out of contract players, signaling the possibility that Rowe will return next season.

In all, the Lions now have 25 players on the roster and under contract for the 2021 season, carrying over the vast majority of the group that landed the club its first ever playoff berth and first round victory before Sunday’s exit in the conference semifinal to the New England Revolution.

While having these players under contract is not a concrete guarantee that everyone will still be on the roster when the season starts next spring — players can still always be loaned, sold, or traded, of course — Luiz Muzzi and Oscar Pareja will have the frame work of the team sorted out heading into the offseason, allowing the duo to focus now on upgrades and depth around the roster.

Here are some thoughts on where the Lions stand now heading into the offseason following this week’s batch of roster news:

Assessing the roster as it stands

Here’s a quick rundown of how the roster looks now after Wednesday’s announcements:

  • Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese, Mason Stajduhar
  • Defenders: Ruan, Robin Jansson, Joao Moutinho, Antonio Carlos, Kamal Miller, Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Michael Halliday
  • Midfielders: Nani, Sebastian Mendez, Mauricio Pereyra, Andres Perea, Uri Rosell, Junior Urso, Jordan Bender, David Loera, Joey DeZart
  • Forwards: Chris Mueller, Tesho Akidele, Daryl Dike, Benji Michel, Matheus Aiás, Alexander Alvarado

Now that the frame of the roster is in place, the Lions can focus on adding key pieces in a couple of different spots.

It’s safe to say that all four starting defenders are locked in for 2021, so adding depth on the backline will need to be a focus for Muzzi and Pareja this offseason. The Lions were dangerously thin on fullback depth this season, relying on the bottom of the depth chart when Ruan and Joao Moutinho were simultaneously out for a brief period this season. Orlando’s pair of starting fullbacks in last weekend’s playoff loss were Kamal Miller and Kyle Smith — nothing against Smith, who played exceptionally well this season, but it’s a significant downgrade from Ruan and Moutinho, who the Lions seriously struggled without for the last few months of the season.

There’s only three center backs on the roster (well, four if you want to count Halliday, but at just 17 I don’t think we’ll be seeing his name much, if at all, next season), so finding depth behind Jansson and Carlos will be another sticking point.

In the midfield, you guessed it, finding someone that can — even if it’s just marginally — step in for Mauricio Pereyra in the midfield when he’s out will be a crucial task. Re-signing Pereyra for 2021 was a top priority, but now finding his backup needs to be near the top of the list as well. Orlando City was not the same team — not close, really — when Pereyra wasn’t on the field, and that’s simply because the No. 10 role in Pareja’s system was made for a guy exactly like Pereyra and there’s just no one else like him on the roster at the moment. Pareja tried asking a few different guys to be the playmaker, like Nani and Andres Perea, but nothing worked quite like the real thing.

Elsewhere in the midfield, I feel pretty confident in the guys Pareja has at his disposal behind Pereyra, in front of the backline — Uri Rosell, Junior Urso, Sebastian Mendez, and Perea.

Lastly, going into the season with depth behind Chris Mueller and Nani should be something worth looking into. Nani was on fire at MLS is Back and early into the re-start of the regular season, but he faded over the last 10 games of the season and into the playoffs, contributing to Orlando’s semi-final demise. Managing his minutes in 2021 will be important, and to do so Pareja will need to be able to replace him in the lineup without a steep drop off in productivity. Maybe Matheus Aias and Alexander Alvarado can be those guys, but we didn’t see hardly enough of them this season to know much about how they’ll fit into the squad next season. One can only hope, otherwise the front office will need to have some potential names on the line.

No concerns at goalkeeper, obviously. Securing a backup to Pedro Gallese — potentially re-signing Brian Rowe — is important, but not a major concern. Then of course there’s the striker spot, which is pretty securely Daryl Dike’s now, with Tesho Akindele, Benji Michel, and even possibly Aias and Alvarado as depth. The Lions are set up top — at least on paper.

One last thing (for real this time) worth nothing, with Dwyer likely moving on, the Lions now have two of three DP spots filled heading into the offseason. It’ll be very interesting to see if and how the club plans to use that if they don’t already plan on giving Dike a hefty pay raise when he inevitably becomes a breakout star in MLS.

A farewell to Dom Dwyer

While nothing is set in stone just yet, the club did tweet out a thank you video to Dom Dwyer after it was announced that he would enter the MLS free agent market for the first time in his career. After three and a half up-and-down seasons with the Lions, it appears that Dwyer’s second stint in Orlando is over.

Dwyer missed all but two games this season due to knee surgery following an injury at the MLS is Back tournament in July. Despite paying a king’s ransom to Sporting KC for Dwyer back in 2017 ($1.6 million in allocation money, an MLS record at the time), injuries and constant struggles kept him from ever reaching his full potential with Orlando, contributing just 24 goals and nine assists in 67 appearances over the last three and a half years.

Putting aside all negative thoughts I’ve had about Dom during his time here, I will say that I’m disappointed and sad for him that he was never able to live up the hype surrounding his arrival (the crowd at the airport moment is still very cool!). I truly thought that, at the time, Orlando City was hitting a homerun in trading for Dwyer and adding him to what was then a fierce strike duo in Dwyer and Cyle Larin.

The fact of the matter is that in MLS you need your stars and big money players to live up to those roles, and I don’t think it’s harsh to say that Dwyer never really did that for Orlando.

At this point, a break up is fair for both sides. Daryl Dike‘s emergence this season made Dwyer much less needed in the plans for 2021, especially at the price he’s probably commanding for a new contract (never say never, it’s possible that he could still re-sign with Orlando at a sharply reduced rate if the market isn’t kind, which for a striker of his caliber it should be).

Despite how things worked out in MLS, Dwyer should still always be fondly remembered for his heroic contributions to Orlando City during the club’s USL title run in 2013. #ForeverALion

For more Orlando soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer


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