Hybrid defender Wilder Cartagena works well for Orlando City SC

• Three defender system working
• Two goals in past three games
• He’s got to play physical
Apr 27, 2024; Orlando, Florida, USA;  Orlando City midfielder Wilder Cartagena (16) and Toronto FC
Apr 27, 2024; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando City midfielder Wilder Cartagena (16) and Toronto FC / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Wilder Cartagena made the Orlando City SC roster as a midfielder. But he’s been moved to the backline with David Brekalo and Rodrigo Schlegel.

Since that shift with Cartagena to the three-defender scheme, Orlando has allowed only two goals over the past three games. Their record is 2-1-0 in those matches. And after a bad start to the season, in 13 games Orlando City SC has worked the team’s way  up to 10th in the MLS East Conference.

Cartagena's performance is solid as a defender in the back-three (three defenders) formation. Yet, on the attack, his midfielder kicks in. His passing success rate through 13 games is just under 87% and he got off seven key passes.

He’s perfect for this position as a hybrid-defender. Even as a midfielder, he developed a well-deserved reputation for tackling. In fact, scouts report tackling is his greatest strength.

As a player who doesn’t shy from contact, he’s drawn nine fouls but has committed 15. He’s drawn three yellow cards and one red.

In Orlando’s latest outing at San Jose Earthquakes, scouts rated Cartagena’s performance among the highest of all players on the pitch.

He played true to form, getting in five tackles. He executed 40 completed passes. And he kept the fouls down to one for the match.

Cartagena was signed late last year through the 2025 season. The Peru international midfielder was previously on loan to the Lions from Al-Ittihad Kalba FC in the United Arab Emirates Pro League.  

But when the front office got the contract signed, it’s unlikely they had any idea what Cartagena and some of his teammates were about to do.

In the back-three formation, emphasizing three defenders, wingers stay focused and when not on the attack, get ready to fill in the edges of the backline. So when opponents start taking shots, they face up to five plugging up the net, as the rest of the team works to clear.

But Orlando City SC took the peculiarities of the back-three a step further, in dedicating midfielder Cartagena as a defender. And as a midfielder who always enjoyed getting physical, he’s excelled at it.

Earlier this season, some Orlando supporters look at the losses and wondered if they should find something else to do this year. But now, with Cartagena and his defender teammates, they’ve suffered two goals in the past three games.

So it’s time to beat the drums and sound the horns again.

This is working.

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