With the summer transfer window open and teams around MLS tooling up for the second-half charge into the playoffs, Orlando City has remained quiet while fending off supporters’ desires to make big splashes to help turn around the club’s recent downturn of form on the field.
Last week, General Manager Luiz Muzzi downplayed hopes of any big signings, saying, in short, to trust the process as Orlando City isn’t in any position with all three designated player spots filled, as well as under-22 spots.
It’s safe to say that those comments from Muzzi basically cleared the way for the likes of Robert Lewandowski to land with FC Barcelona instead.
Anyway, the Lions have remained productive behind the scenes during this window and so far this week two moves have emerged. First, MLSSoccer.com’s Tom Bogert reported on Monday that Orlando City was in the process of finalizing the signing of United States Men’s National Team forward Nico Gioacchini on a free transfer.
Then, the Lions officially announced on Tuesday that they have dealt midfielder Sebastian Mendez to LAFC for $300,000 in 2022 general allocation money.
Some thoughts on those moves…
Mendez to LAFC
In trading Mendez, the Lions have done a solid deal of business here. Mendez was on an expiring contract heading into this winter and had fallen out of the starting line this season with the sudden emergence of Cesar Araujo. He’s only appeared in 13 games (five starts) for Oscar Pareja in 2022, becoming a somewhat expensive bench player on a salary of just over $600,000.
In return for Mendez, the Lions will receive $300,000 of GAM this season, with the potential to net another $225,000 in GAM in both 2023 and 2024 if certain contract benchmarks are met. While we don’t know what those benchmarks are, typically these deals are structured to make those goals easily obtainable so as to make the return payout spreadable over multiple years.
It’s a big haul for a guy that was also, until recently, one of the most underrated defensive midfielders in MLS, a key impact player for Pareja, and a focal point of the Lions’ midfield for the past three seasons – but with Araujo, Junior Urso, and the versatile Andres Perea, he quickly became the odd man out. Better to cash in now than wait and likely lose him for little to nothing this offseason.
Not much more to it. Sometimes players, despite being valuable, become obsolete in the grand scheme of things, and there comes a point when teams have the make the most of it. That’s what the front office did here. This move gives Orlando more roster and budget flexibility now and into the offseason when a more significant retooling will likely be in the works.
This one came more out of left field. Gioacchini is a soon-to-be 22-year-old forward that’s been with Caen in Ligue 2 since 2019. As Bogart noted in his report, the USMNT-capped player only played around 500 minutes this past season while on loan with Montpellier in Ligue 1. He’s also signed a two-and-a-half year deal, keeping him with the Lions through 2024, with a team option in 2025.
Gioacchini fills one of Orlando’s most pressing issues as a new forward joining the group. The Lions’ struggles this season have centered primarily around the team’s inability to score goals in greater numbers, as the Lions have been held to a goal or less in nine of the last 11 games.
He’s primarily a center-forward but can play out on the wing. For Orlando City there’s nowhere to go but up with this on. He’s a free transfer, so there are no sunk costs to worry about should he fail to work out, all while reaping the benefits if he hits and knocks in a handful of goals for the Lions this season.
Gioacchini has three goals in eight caps for the United States but hasn’t featured for the team since the Gold Cup last summer. With a fresh start in Orlando, this could be the perfect opportunity and motivator he needs to get back into the national team picture with consistent minutes and the chance to play under a quality manager like Pareja.
Low risk, high reward, this is a good signing for Orlando, a talented player that they can only hope helps add a little bit of much, much-needed spark to the attack.