The best soccer teams in the world are built around their midfield groups. Orlando City started a trio of Designated Player Martín Ojeda, club captain Mauricio Pereyra and U22 star César Araújo in the team's season opening win over the New York Red Bulls.
It's the same trio that played in the Lions' preseason finale against the New England Revolution. The sample size on this midfield configuration is still small, but we've seen two very different examples of how it can look against a wide-open, mid block and against a rigid, high-press system.
It's that performance against the Red Bulls' high-press 4-2-2-2 that has me questioning the long-term viability of this setup. Let's get into some pros and cons.
So what does this group do well?
This unit gets a lot of offensive skill on the field. Pereyra and Ojeda are two of the three most gifted greative players on the roster, and this setup gets another winger on the field. Theoretically, that makes Orlando more dangerous.
This trio is also technically gifted. Pereyra is the smoothest player on the team, and Ojeda's left foot is class. Araújo isn't the best passer or dribbler in the world, but he's effective. He also brings the grit to compensate for the other two's defensive deficiencies.
That, however, plays into some of the defensive issues.
In the second half against the Red Bulls, New York won possession and Lewis Morgan stormed down the middle of the field. The Scottsman was wide open at the edge of the box, but his shot fell just wide.
On that play, Araújo was the only defensive midfielder and he was away from the action. Pereyra was responsible for tracking Morgan, but he just didn't have the legs to cover that ground. The captain is willing to put in defensive work, but the veteran does't have the ability to pull that off for a full 90 minutes.
Ojeda seems to be a fine presser, but he provides little in terms of defensive support otherwise.
Midfield combinations are going to change and tweak over the course of the season. Players will get hurt, players will need rest and head coach Oscar Pareja will make tweaks. Early in the season, it can be good to just get the best players on the field and see how to make it work.
It'll be interesting to see if this setup can find its groove, or if Pareja will have to make an early season tweak.