The best soccer team in any given match is likely the one with the better midfield. In Major League Soccer, almost every recently succesful team has been built on an excellent midfield unit. Star attackers might make or break a game or season, but a dominant midfield gives genuine control of the game.
Orlando's had strong midfield play since Oscar Pareja took over in 2020, but this year could be the best yet.
On Sunday, Orlando started Andres Perea, Mauricio Pereyra and new U-22 signing César Araújo in central midfield. The two Uruguayans were excellent, especially once Orlando settled into the match. In possession, those two had excellent chemistry and the quality to find the right passes. Araújo did an excellent job of making himself an option for a pass and advancing the ball when he received it. Pereyra was the best version of himself, getting on the ball in all areas and constantly setting up attacks.
Perea was less impressive. He made countless mistakes in attack and wasn't quite as noticeable in possession play as his midfield partners. The Colombian-American just wasn't on his game, so Orlando turned to veteran box-to-box midfielder Junior Urso, and the Bear delivered. He brought more energy and Orlando dominated those first 15 or so minutes of the second half.
This instance is emblematic of Orlando's greatest asset in central midfield: the depth. Perea is not a bad MLS player. He's not always outstanding, but he's almost never bad. To be able to replace him with a player as good as Urso is quite the luxury. And to be able to bring in a player like Perea for Urso when the roles are reversed is an equally impressive luxury.
I have nothing but praise for Araújo, but Sebas Méndez might be even better. The Ecuadorian was one of the most important players in the squad last year and is only improving each season. This level of quality and depth is unprecedented at Orlando City and could propel the club to record highs this year.
If there's one pitfall to this all, however, it's the lack of depth behind Pereyra. Orlando has two good box-to-box players and two good defensive players, but nobody else on the roster can really do what Pereyra does. There is no like for like swap if he gets injured or fades down the stretch.
Even with that glaring hole, the rest of the midfield depth, plus the inclusion of versatile attackers like Alexandre Pato, Facundo Torres and eventually Gastón González, Orlando will be able to adjust its system to play without a natural No. 10.
There are few things I love more in soccer than fluid, effective central midfielders, and Orlando has a whole cavalcade of them now. After what we saw on Sunday, this unit could not only be a strength of the team, but one of the strongest unites league wide.