I want to apologize to Orlando City captain Mauricio Pereyra. Not because I said anything disparaging about the veteran Uruguayan midfielder, but because of what I didn't say.
I published my Three Stars column Sunday after the Lions defeated the New York Red Bulls Saturday, but I wrote that piece before giving the game a deeper dive. After reevaluating the tape, it's time to give Pereyra his flowers.
Orlando's skipper played as more of a deep-lying, box-to-box midfielder in this game. It's the same position and role he played against the New England Revolution in preseason , and he played that spot at times down the stretch last season.
In the first half, Pereyra was the best player on the pitch playing in that position. His best skill is probably his passing, especially his combination of range and vision. Pereyra's ability to look up and spray balls opens up the field and carves open packed defenses.
The Red Bulls are a notoriously hard team to play through. The few times Orlando broke through those lines and got to attack, it was Pereyra who opened up the defense with a perfect switch of play or piercing pass through the New York defense.
Pereyra doesn't have a ton of end product in the final third --- and in this role he doesn't need to --- but his ability on the ball opens up the game. He single handedly changes the game with his ball progression.
It's more than just the passing, though. Pereyra has a soft touch and can receive passes in tight midfield areas. That allows him to combine and get Orlando's quick wide players on the move. The veteran midfielder also has a surprising amount of veteran bite for a 32-year-old who's spent the last three years as a pure No. 10.
In the first 45 minutes, Pereyra was head and shoulders above everyone else for Orlando. The Lions struggled a lot to create chances, but the few times Orlando was on the front foot, it was the captain pulling the strings.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Pereyra fell off hard in the second 45. He didn't open up the game with his passing, and put the defense in precarious positions with some suspect defending and sloppy turnovers. That's the downside of playing a 32-year-old in midfielder --- especially against the Red Bulls.
It's also preseason, so the collective energy across the pitch waned heavily in the second half.
Pereyra this season can play a similar role to New York City FC's Maxi Moralez did last year. Moralez spent a half-decade as one of the best No. 10's in MLS history, but he became an impressive ball-progressing defensive midfielder for the Pigeons last season.
Now that Orlando can deploy one of Martín Ojeda or Facundo Torres into the attacking midfield role, it opens space for Pereyra to become a game-controlling deep-lying playmaker. And after game one, his ceiling in that role is extremely high.