2020 Season Preview | The Defenders

2020 Season Preview | The Defenders

All this week, we’ll be running a series of previews of the 2020 Orlando City squad, going position by position and giving you the scoop on every player on the roster. Today, we’ll take a look at Orlando City’s reinforced 2020 back line.

Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja has long been associated with great defenses. In his seven years as an MLS head coach, only one of Pareja’s Rapids or FC Dallas squads ever conceded 50 goals, and that was his first-ever Colorado team in 2012. On three occasions, including his 2016 Shield/Open Cup double side, Pareja’s teams allowed 40 or fewer tallies. 

He has a great foundation to work with in Orlando, as well. The Lions were massively better on the defensive side of the ball in 2019, knocking 22 goals off their ledger from the previous season, which marked the second-best improvement of any team in MLS. There were pockets of greatness–Orlando had a 21-game stretch from April 20 through August 23 where they allowed just 23 goals, a pace that would have put them second in the league.

Swedish center back Robin Jansson is set to command the backline after making an immediate impact in 2019. Jansson showed off an unceasing defensive motor, an ardent willingness to deliver perfectly-timed crunching tackles, and a cultured left-footed long ball in his 28 starts. He’ll be partnered by Brazilian Antonio Carlos, a new loan signing for 2020 who started regularly in 2018 for a Palmeiras team that won the Brasileirão. Antonio Carlos stands at an imposing 6-foot-3 and should bring a threat on set pieces as well as defensive solidity. 

22-year-old Argentine Rodrigo Schlegel joins the center back group on loan from reigning Superliga champions Racing Club. Schlegel impressed throughout the 2020 preseason and gives Oscar Pareja an intriguing young option at the position. Veteran Alex De John returns after starting six league games in 2019, providing strong depth.

The fullback group returns intact, with João Moutinho and Kamal Miller taking left back duties while Ruan and Kyle Smith handle the right side. Moutinho offers supreme crossing ability from the left side and displayed a natural connection in 2019 with childhood hero Nani, whom he idolized coming up through the Sporting CP academy. Miller makes for more of a defensive presence while also possessing the ability to play center back. Ruan quickly became a fan favorite with his blinding pace and infectious enthusiasm, notching five assists on the season and unbalancing defense after defense. Smith filled in reliably across the backline last year and returns as a solid depth option.

Tomorrow, we’ll dissect Pareja’s options in midfield for 2020.

Click here for the goalkeepers' preview. 

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UPDATE: March 19, 2020 - In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to postpone events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks, Major League Soccer has extended the postponement of its matches during this period of time. MLS remains focused on playing the entire 2020 season and is evaluating all options, including pushing back the end of the season and playing MLS Cup in December, as the league did prior to the 2019 season. The league is also identifying other available dates. Throughout this process, MLS will continue to prioritize the safety of our fans, players, employees and partners and to coordinate with federal and local public health authorities as well as other sporting organizations..