Huh, guess these fanbases have something in common. I’d give Orlando fans first dibs on these feelings due to their seniority. Saturday was as noncompetitive as I’ve seen Charlotte in its short history. That’s about all I have to say about things that have happened over the past week.
Orlando has started the season much better than Charlotte with a home victory over RBNY (1-0), a home draw against Cincinnati (0-0), and an away draw against DC United (1-1). Defensively, you feel okay about that, but 2 goals in 3 games isn’t great (says the fan of the 1 goal team…).
In addition to theses league games, Orlando is also in the CCL. On 3/7, they produced a great result of 0-0 at UANL. I say this statement in all sincerity, as it set them up very well for the home leg on 3/15. Well, in addition to Fox cutting the feed before the game was over, Orlando came up just short with a 1-1 draw, sending Tigres through on away goals (stupid rule). Tigres is one of the better clubs on this continent, so I don’t think Orlando should be too down on itself. Certainly disappointed, but not disheartened.
More importantly from a Charlotte perspective, Orlando has played 180 more minutes of football than us, including what will be 3 games this week. Wednesday night’s affair was all high-stakes, so hopefully it was energy sapping.
Now, there is a positive way to look at this. We are still very much in “early season” form. Part of the reason MLS teams struggle so much in CCL is because the MLS season has just started, while Liga MX (and other leagues) sides have been going for multiple games already. UANL has already played 11 league games. The chemistry of that team is far above Orlando’s, or any MLS side. There might be more wear on Orlando legs; they might have better understanding, though.
Orlando’s lineups are all over the place. It looks like a 4-2-3-1 might be their preferred, but then you have that 3-4-2-1 and 5-3-2 hanging out there. Now, the differences between a back 5 and a back 3 can be blurry, so that 3-4-2-1 could easily be a 5-2-3 (or something of the sort). The point is, this is a team that has some lineup variation, so it should be interesting to see what they do on Saturday with it.
My guess–based on the way they started the season and the lineup they’ve put out against Tigres–is that the 4-2-3-1 with those personnel choices is the (mostly) preferred lineup.
According to the MLS Availability Report, Orlando have a pretty clean bill of health. Only forward Favian Loyola is listed as Questionable with a left thigh injury. He’s 17 and doesn’t have a first team appearances, so, all-in-all, Orlando will be coming in with a full-strength squad.
Note: Antonio Carlos has injury concerns but isn’t listed in the Availability Report. More on this later.
Like Atlanta, Orlando has a young South American DP player who should be the focal point of opposition teams: the Uruguayan, Facundo Torres. There were rumors of Torres being linked to Arsenal in January, though obviously nothing came of that.
Torres is listed as a midfielder and forward, which is unsurprising when you see the formations above. The 22-year-old had a strong debut season in MLS last year, scoring 9 goals (1 PK) and getting 8 assists. Now, he did that off the back of a 4.7 xG (4.0 npxG) so there is some question about the sustainability of that goal-scoring production. Good goal-scorers usually over-perform their xG; they don’t usually double it. He also over-performed his xAG, which was 5.4. He has 1 of Orlando’s 2 goals on the season.
Torres had 10 goals over 50 appearances for Peñarol (his previous club) in his age 19 and 20 seasons. The history of goalscoring is there. The questions are: does his goal tally come down? Does the xG improve? Is he a unicorn who consistently over performs his xG to this level? He’ll be 23 this season, so there’s plenty of time for this to become clear. What is clear now is that Charlotte will have to be aware of him.
In addition to his obvious goal-contributions, Torres is a dangerous passer. He’s not elite here yet, but he is good. He’s in the 83rd percentile for assists, the 81st percentile for progressive passes, and in the 70th percentile ranges for passes into the final third (76th), passes into the penalty area (74th), and crosses into the penalty area (71st).
He’s a good carrier of the ball (82nd percentile for carries, 72nd percentile for progressive carrying distance, and 76th percentile for carries into the final third) and receiver of the ball (80th percentile for passes received, 74th percentile for progressive passes received).
He’s recreating his map from last year. There is a bias toward the right side of the pitch, but it’s clear that he’s going to drift all over the final third. He’s been started as a CAM, RM/RW, or part of a strike partnership. His versatility makes him dangerous. Considering how many issues Almada and ATL gave use with attacking our left side (before finishing attacks on our right side), we should be concerned.
Elsewhere in attack, you’ll find DP striker Ercan Kara, Jack Lynne, Moises Tablante, the injured Loyola, Gaston González, Ramiro Enrique, Duncan McGuire, Dagur Dan Þórhallsson, and Martín Ojeda. Neither Lynne nor Tablante has made a senior appearance this year and Lynne only had 3 appearances (for 4 minutes) last year. Lynn is currently out on loan.
Kara is a 27-year-old Austrian striker. He’s big at 6’3.5″ and 192 lbs. He’s in his 2nd season for Orlando having come over from Rapid Wien in the Austrian Bundesliga. He had 11 goals (1 PK) and 3 assists last year on 9.4 xG and 1.6 xAG. For as big as he is, he doesn’t have the number of headed goals you might expect. Of his 10 non-PK goals, only 3 were headers. Most were with the right foot, while one was with his left. The way to defend him, then, seems pretty simple (/s): force him off that right foot.
Kara started the first two games but did not start in Orlando’s game against DC or in their CCL games. I haven’t been able to find anything about these absences being related to injury, so it might be a form issue.
In Kara’s place, Enrique and McGuire have come in. Enrique is 21 and in his first season in MLS, having arrived from Banfield. He had 8 goals and 2 assists in 51 appearances for Banfield. McGuire is 22 and was selected in the most recent SuperDraft (#6 overall) from Creighton. From Orlando’s announcement about his signing:
McGuire is coming off a breakout year that earned him the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy, an annual award given to college soccer’s best player. He set the Creighton single-season record for goals (23), picked up Second Team All-America honors, and helped propel his team to the College Cup.
I will say again: it’s exceedingly rare for a SuperDraft pick to get serious minutes. McGuire might be the exception. He has Orlando’s other league goal on the season. Enrique, meanwhile, has started both CCL games for them.
González (21), Þórhallsson (22), and Ojeda (24) are all first year MLS players. Orlando has really turned this roster over. González joins from CA Unión in the Argentina Primera. In 2021, González had 5 goals and 6 assists as a 19-year-old. On the year he has 2 appearances (1 start) with 0 goals or assists. In his 1 start, he appears to have played as a left wing-back.
Þórhallsson joins Orlando from the Norwegian side Mjøndalen. He has 3 appearances (2 starts) with 0 goals and an assist on the year. He’s been started in an attacking midfielder role behind a striker (or 2 strikers).
Finally, Ojeda joins Orlando from Godoy Cruz in Argentina. He made 50 appearances for Godoy, scoring 18 goals (2 PKs) and 12 assists over that time. This includes a 12-goal, 3-assist season in 2021. Ojeda has made 3 league appearances (1 start) so far. He was played as a CAM in this start. He played the same role in his other start against UANL in the first leg.
Ojeda was a $4.01M signing, so the expectations are high for him.
With Godoy Cruz, he shows a strong bias towards the right. I can’t speak on how exactly he was deployed with them.
With Orlando, this bias has not shown up. It probably reflects his more central role for Orlando, though as his Godoy Cruz map shows, he will drift all over the pitch. If he starts, the interplay between him and Torres will be fascinating to watch.
In the midfield, Orlando will deploy their last DP, Mauricio Pereyra, Felipe Martins, Wilfredo Rivera, César Araújo, Erick Gunera-Calix,
Iván Angulo, Wilder Cartagena, and Shakur Mohammed. Mohammed was Orlando’s other high SuperDraft pick (#2 overall) but has yet to feature for the club. Rivera and Gunera-Calix also have yet to make a senior team appearance.
Felipe Martins joined on a free from Austin. He made 28 appearances for Austin, but only started 5 games. He scored once and had 2 assists. At 32, he’s probably done with being a consistent starter. In fact, you have to go back to 2019, when he was with Vancouver, for him to have made above 10 starts in a season. He has been in MLS since 2012, though, so he definitely knows the league.
Pereyra is the big name of this group. The 33-year-old Uruguayan is now in his 5th season with Orlando, having made 86 appearances (79 starts), including 32 appearances (31 starts) last year. Before Orlando, he was in the Russian Premier League with Krasnodar and was initially a goalscorer. In 2013-14, he scored 6 goals with 4 assists and followed that season up with a 9-goal, 1 assist season in 2014-15. Since then, though, he’s become more of a playmaker. With Orlando, he’s only scored 4 total goals, including just 1 last year. To be honest, he’s been a bit unlucky with his goal-scoring. He had a 2.6 xG in 2021 and a 2.9 xG last year. In each year he only scored once. This isn’t a crazy disparity, so I don’t think it points to a likely upshot of goals; it’s simply noteworthy. He had 7 assists in 2021 and 8 assists last year. He’s yet to get an assist this year, but history says those will come.
So far this year, Pereyra seems to be playing a bit further back than he was in 2022. That’s unsurprising considering the attacking midfield talent (Ojeda, Þórhallsson) they’ve brought in. Regardless of whether you consider him a CAM or CM, his penetrative passing numbers are excellent. He’s among the league leaders in progressive passing, passes into the penalty area, passes into the final third, and key passes. Additionally, he’s excellent when it comes to shot-creating actions. The percentiles below show that regardless of how you consider him (CAM or CM), his passing is elite.
Cartagena is in his 2nd season with Orlando, having joined last year. He only made 8 appearances (4 starts) but joined on loan from Ittihad Kalba in August. The loan is set to expire at the end of this year. Unlike most of Orlando’s other new arrivals, Cartagena is a veteran at 28 years old.
Cartagena has appeared in all 3 league matches for Orlando, starting 2. His role is to be a defensive balance to Orlando’s attacking talent. He does the job very well, as he’s a good tackler and interceptor of the ball.
Araújo and Angulo are both in their 2nd seasons with Orlando. Araújo made 31 appearances (28 starts) for Orlando last year. He’s never had a goal or an assist in his career. He’s appeared in all 3 league games so far but has only started 1. Meanwhile, Angulo joined in the summer of last year and made 9 appearances (5 starts), recording 2 assists. Angulo has appeared in all 3 league games but has made only 2 starts. Both started in the matchups with UANL. Angulo has started as the left wide player when Orlando is in a 4-2-3-1 and as a wingback when they are in a back 5.
Araújo’s job is to be cover, but I’m not sure he’s great at it (he’s not bad). His passing is good and safe (high-ish percentiles for pass completion overall and in the short/medium ranges). He’s not progressing the ball much, but that doesn’t need to be his job when you have someone like Pereyra.
Defensively, he’s a good tackler (83rd percentile), great against dribblers (97th percentile of dribblers tackled), and reads the game well (76th percentile for tackles plus interceptions). With that said, I think there’s a reason they brought in Cartagena. He does all of these things, but better. Araújo is only 21, so Cartagena has 7 years on him. It’s not a surprise that Cartagena would be more solid defensively at this point in their respective careers. Araújo isn’t a great CDM yet, but has the talent to be. It’s also important to note he’s started their two biggest games of the season against Tigres, which does show what the club thinks of him.
Angulo doesn’t have a history of goal contribution. His best season (goal-contribution-wise) was as an 18-year-old in the Colombian league, where he had 2 goals and 3 assists. This got him a move to Palmeiras in Brazil, but he never made an appearance. He got into 3 games with Botafogo before moving to Portimonense in the Portuguese league. He made 32 appearances (27 starts) for Portimonense, but only recorded 1 goal and 1 assist. Last year’s tally of 2 assists in MLS wasn’t bad, especially considering his limited playing time, however, you have to imagine teams are looking for more production from the wing than what he’s historically provided (is he their Jóźwiak?).
It’s a small sample size, but nothing jumps out in Angulo’s percentiles with the exception of his carry numbers. He was in the 91st percentile for carries into the final third and the 85th percentile for carries into the penalty area. He’s only in the 40th percentile for progressive carries, though, so it’s still an area of growth. It must be said that 6.1 90s is hardly enough time to accurately measure his ability.
Orlando lists 3 young defenders on their roster who have yet to make an appearance this year: Alexander Freeman, Thomas Williams, and Brandon Hackenberg. Of the 3, only Williams has ever had a senior appearance (4 apps, 2 starts last year).
There is a 4th defender, Antonio Carlos, who has yet to make an appearance for Orlando this year. Unlike the others, Carlos has been a key contributor for Orlando at center back over the past few years. He joined Orlando in 2020, having spent 3 years with Palmeiras in the Brazilian Série A. He made 36 appearances for Palmeiras. Since joining Orlando, Carlos has made 70 appearances, including 64 starts. He’s been out with an injury (yay MLS Availability Report not showing that!) picked up in the preseason. Orlando’s own fans note his absence’s effect on their ability to defend in the air:
Carlos’ most effective aerial season was in 2021, when he tied forward Daryl Dike for the team lead with 2.2 aerials won per game. Last year, with Dike in England, Carlos led the team for the second consecutive season with 1.9 aerials won per game, despite missing time with a hamstring injury.
This aerial ability is real too; it’s not just fan bias. Carlos is in the 74th percentile for aerials won, 89th percentile for aerials lost, and 99th percentile for percentage of aerials won. The other two primary CBs on this roster–Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel–are horrible. Jansson is in the 6th percentile for aerials won and the 9th percentile for percentage of aerials won. Schlegel is equally inept, as he’s in the 11th percentile of aerials won and 5th percentile of percentage of aerials won.
If there was ever a time when “cross and pray” might work, this is the game. It should be noted that Carlos has been back in training and has made the bench against both DC United and UANL, so there is a chance he plays Saturday. Let’s hope he needs a bit more time.
Carlos’ primary CB partner has been Jansson. Jansson is in his 5th season with Orlando and starts most of their games. Over this time, he’s appeared in 103 matches, starting 99 of them. He provides a little threat in front of goal, getting 4 goals over the past 2 seasons (2021 and 2022). 3 of those goals did come in 2021, so I’m not sure he’s someone that we need to be seriously concerned about, but it’s something to watch out for.
Jansson is a decent passer of the ball, especially when it comes to long passes. He’s in the 86th percentile for long pass completion percentage. This percentage comes on the back of him routinely trying these types of passes (63rd percentile for long passes attempted). He also likes to carry the ball out of the back, as he’s in the 89th percentile for take-ons attempted, the 92nd percentile for successful take-ons, and the 82nd percentile for progressive carries.
Schlegel has been the primary beneficiary of Carlos’ absence. He’s started all 3 games so far, though he did start quite frequently for Orlando over the past 2 years anyway (52 appearances, 39 starts over the 2021-2022 seasons). Schlegel is a good tackler (93rd percentile), especially against dribblers (96th percentile).
Abdi Salim was the 17th overall selection in the most recent SuperDraft. He’s played as a CB in 2 games for Orlando (both times when they were in a back 3 or 5 configuration). This being his first professional season, there’s not much data to look at.
Kyle Smith is a fullback turned center-back*, at least currently. He’s appeared in all 3 league games but has only started as part of a back 3 or 5. He did get into 29 games (14 starts) last year for Orlando, scoring 2 goals. He’s in his 5th season with Orlando, having made 98 appearances (63 starts), scoring 3 goals, and assisting once.
*Note: The regular caveats about formation apply here. I’m basing position designations on the lineups released by MLS. There’s every chance that they show a back 5 with Smith as a CB, but in reality, it was a back 4 with him at his usual fullback position.
To return to the aerial issue Orlando is having and Smith’s role in it. Smith is decent in the air for a fullback (87th percentile for aerials won, 40th percentile for percentage of aerials won). As a center back, though, his percentile for aerials won falls to 22nd. That’s not a surprise, but simply reinforces the idea that this is an area of weakness for them.
Luca Petrasso was with Toronto last year and deployed primarily as a left-back, though he has some designations of wing back and winger as well. He made 23 appearances (21 starts) for Toronto, getting 2 assists. He’s made 2 league appearances and 1 start this year for Orlando, though he did also start both legs in CCL.
Michael Halliday is a young (20) fullback for Orlando. He’s come up through their organization and is actually in his 4th season with the club. He’s made 15 appearances (6 starts) over the past 3 years. Although he made just 6 (0 starts) appearances for 50 minutes last year, that’s not really surprising. Last year–and in the previous 3 prior years–Orlando had Ruan as their starting RB. With Ruan now in DC, it seems Orlando is giving Halliday a legitimate shot.
He’s appeared in all 3 of Orlando’s league games, making 2 starts, and started in both legs of their UANL tie. Being such a young player, there’s not much data to go on, but the fact that Orlando felt comfortable moving on from Ruan probably says it all.
The final defender that has appeared for Orlando is Rafael Santos. He’s in his first season with Orlando having joined from Coritiba in the Brazilian league. Over the past 3 years he’s bounced around a bit: Ponte Preta in 2021; Cruzeiro and Coritiba in 2022; Orlando currently. He’s made 55 appearances (47 starts) over this time. He has 3 career goals and 4 assists to his name, all back in 2021 with Ponte Preta.
Orlando has 4 keepers on their roster: Javier Otero, Mason Stajduhar, Adam Grinwis, and Pedro Gallese. Otera has never made a senior appearance and Grinwis has only done so in 2 years: 2021 (2 starts) and 2018 (5 starts). Stajduhar appears to be the backup. He made 2 starts last year and 5 starts in 2021.
The #1 is Gallese. The 33-year-old is off to a strong start in his 4th season with Orlando. He’s made 76 starts for the club, including 32 last year. In terms of raw numbers, last year was not a good year for Gallese. He allowed 47 goals (1.47 goals per 90), only had a 65.9% save percentage, and had a -2.2 PSxG+/-.
Until this year, the goals per 90 have actually increased for Gallese each year since he joined Orlando: 1.05 GA90 in 2020 (19 starts), 1.36 GA90 in 2021 (22 starts), and 1.47 GA90 last year. So far this year, he’s bounced back in a big way with a 0.33 GA90 in th league. He almost single-handedly kept Orlando in their games with Tigres by making a ton of really good saves. Gallese’s save percentage in 73.2% in 2020 and 70.8% in 2021. It’s a ridiculous 92.3% this year.
His PSxG+/- was okay in both 2020 (+2.4) and 2021 (+3.0). This year it’s already at +1.5. Now there is still plenty of time for this number to come down (Kahlina began last year with a strong PSxG+/- but finished in the negatives). Gallese is currently 4th in the league in PSxG+/-.
There’s not much that jumps out in his percentiles. He’s clearly not a bad keeper, but I tend to trust history over a 3-5 game stretch. Maybe this is a career year for Gallese, or maybe it’s a good run. If I had to bet, I’d say he comes down to earth a bit as the year goes on. Let’s hope that starts Saturday.
Desperate times indeed for Charlotte. Many will be calling this a “must-win” for the club and, while I see the logic behind that, I don’t know that I fully agree. Road games are tough in any league. Charlotte is historically very bad on the road. You offer me a draw right now and I’m biting your hand off for it.
The main source of hope for Charlotte probably comes in Orlando’s midweek CCL fixture. How much–if any–has that game fatigued them, both physically and mentally. With the crazy, and ultimately disappointing end, you have to hope a lot.
The second place to pin some hope is that Carlos is at least one more game away from being able to start. Otherwise, their biggest weakness gets patched. One player will not solve their aerial issues, but he will certainly provide a big boost.
From a Charlotte perspective, let’s not beat around the bush. Świderski on the right has not, is not, and will not work. If he’s going to start, Karol needs to be returned to the center of the pitch; it’s a game and a half late for this.
Wing production continues to be an issue for this team. The national media has latched onto Jóźwiak’s lack of production. While I think some of the criticism is unfair (I think he’s been one of our better players on the season), it’s not completely unfair. Charlotte has a goal differential of -6, has scored 1 goal, and was noncompetitive against Atlanta. Jóźwiak has not scored a goal in 92 league games. I’m a fan, but the reality is we need end production from him.
Instead of Świderski on the right, it’s time for Vargas to get the start. I’m a staunch Gaines supporter, but Vargas has earned a start. Each time he’s seen the pitch, he looks bright.
In midfield, while I’m dying to see Nuno Santos get a start, I don’t think it happens. I think we’ll see Świderski, Westwood, and Jones in the midfield.
Editor’s note: for information about how many of us feel about Jones at this current moment, check out our Wednesday pod. I’ll simply speak for myself here and say he was exceedingly bad, in my opinion.
The Bronico experiment at LB is not going well. I understand what CL wants from Bronico in that position, but Atlanta’s attacks all seemed to target that side. Wiley’s two goals were moves that ended on the right of our defense, but the thrusts of those attacks came on the left. The easiest answer to our backline issues is to buy a left back. If that is not going to happen (and I’m pessimistic it will), it feels like it’s either growing pains with Brandt or an uninspiring play from Mora/Afful.
On the other flank, Byrne has not been good. I refuse to believe that his skills have atrophied over a single off-season to the point he’s unplayable. I don’t know what has happened, but I believe the answer lies in how CL has been deploying his fullbacks. I don’t see a world in which Lindsey starts.
At center back, there is really no reason to change. I don’t think either of Tuiloma or Malanda were great against Atlanta, but that could be said of the entire team. Neither had obvious errors like they did against St. Louis, but both were culpable, to varying degrees, in the goals that were scored. Malanda was especially bad on the first goal.
Sisniega had a rough go of it, too. I’m not sure any of the goals can be fully placed on him, but I would like my goalie to save one of them. Sometimes you just need an unlikely save to keep you in the game and Pablo wasn’t able to do that for us. Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s how I feel. The Araújo goal is the one I really want him to save. I tend to be unfairly critical of goalies, especially when they get beat near-post.
This has not been the start of the season any of us wanted. It’s still too early to declare this season dead, but results need to start happening. Orlando is a good team, but they’re not elite (yet; the talent is real). They’ve had a ton of roster turnover in the past couple of years and started a number of young players who are new to the league. I think there’s a lot of talent in that squad, but I don’t know that they outclass us to the point that it’s impossible to get a positive result. Containing Torres and preventing Pereyra from dictating the game will be key.
Prediction: Orlando 1 – Charlotte 1
Data Notes: All heatmaps come fromSofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come fromFBref.com. All formation graphics are from MLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us,Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com.