As Orlando City prepares to launch its third Major League Soccer regular season under Head Coach Oscar Pareja, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at the 2022 Lions to give you a full roster breakdown leading up to Orlando’s home opener, presented by Orlando Health, against CF Montréal at Exploria Stadium on Sunday, February 27 at 1 p.m.
We have previously discussed Orlando City’s goalkeepers and defenders in this series. Today, we’ll be having a look at the Lions’ midfield for 2022.
Orlando City has assembled a versatile group of players in midfield for this season. Virtually all of the Lions’ midfielders have the ability to play multiple spots in Pareja’s system, though for simplicity’s sake we will break them down by their primary position.
Starting with the defensive midfielders, Sebas Méndez and Joey DeZart both return from the 2021 side. Méndez was having a terrific season for both club and country before an unfortunate injury sidelined him for two months during the summer, but his return in late September coincided with a teamwide revitalization. He capped his year with a stunning golazo on Decision Day in Montréal that sent the Lions back to the postseason for the second straight year. DeZart, a 2020 second-round pick from Wake Forest, has appeared in 28 matches over his first two seasons and provides quality depth at the 6.
New to the group this season is 20 year-old César Araújo, signed via the U22 Initiative from Uruguayan club Montevideo Wanderers. Araújo was named the Wanderers’ Player of the Season and made the Uruguayan league’s Best XI bench after a stellar campaign in which he led all league midfielders in interceptions per 90 minutes and percentage of passes played forward. Able to play as a lone holding midfielder or in a double pivot, Araújo will be expected to add both bite and ball movement to the middle of the pitch.
Whoever suits up at the 6 for Orlando will likely spend a lot of time partnering with Júnior Urso, the veteran Brazilian who has established himself as one of MLS’ best ball-winners over his first two seasons in purple. Urso is a box-to-box maven who has consistently led the Lions in fouls drawn, a key way of winning possession, while also adding eight goals in all competitions. Andrés Perea should see significant time once again in this role, as well, with the young Colombian-American breaking into the United States Men’s National Team picture last year.
Last but certainly not least, we reach the straw that stirs the drink. Mauricio Pereyra is back for his third full season in Orlando after arriving in August 2019, and the Uruguayan maestro will again sport the famous No. 10 on his back. Pereyra needs four assists to pass Nani for the all-time club record, a feat he should be able to accomplish fairly early on in the season considering the talent around him. Pereyra will be counted on in 2022 not only for his masterful passing, but also for his leadership abilities.