The rest of the world has started to catch on to what Orlando City and Uruguay soccer fans have already known: César Araújo is one of the league's top rising stars. Last week MLS made the point official by naming the 21-year-old midfielder to its 22 Under 22 list.
Coming into the 2022 season, the Lions needed to replace some serious talent, having lost Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller, and Nani. Araújo has proven himself to be a pivotal signing for Orlando's next era, along with Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara.
When the team signed Araújo from the Montevideo Wanderers last January, it expected him to have an immediate impact, but his youth suggested he might take some time to adjust. With a penchant for progressive passes as a deep-lying playmaker and a noticeable toughness, Araújo showed potential to bring both tangible and intangible benefits to the team at some point.
He has had an immediate impact, starting 30 games this season and scoring two vital goals in the US
Open Cup semifinals. The stat that most immediately jumps out is his passing accuracy, a remarkable 90.7%, good for sixth-best in the league, even while attempting a high number of passes each game.
As hoped, it's not simply the obvious attributes that Araújo brings to the team. While his tactical
awareness brings benefits to the offense, he's also managed to get himself into the top 30 for the league in tackles, and he's in the top 10 in MLS for fouls won. His smarts and technical skill help move
the ball quickly up the pitch while his intensity drives him to do the dirty work necessary to drive a team.
The learning curve has been real. Araújo began the season by racking up yellow cards at an
unacceptable rate. The defensive midfielder had to learn to use his intensity effectively without running himself into trouble. After the first quarter of the season, he settled down considerably while
continuing to provide high pressure and plenty of tackles. Finding ways to stay on the pitch and play at full speed has been integral both to his own development and to the team's.
As the 2022 regular season concludes, the Lions have their focus on the immediate present, with three big games left to determine the playoff situation. Araújo will undoubtedly feature in the club's finish and playoff run. For the next few weeks, there's no need to look to the future.
However, the future looks bright with Orlando's youth movement. Araújo has a high upside and while it
didn't take official MLS recognition for fans to notice, it makes for a nice statement and another boost of confidence moving forward.