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 wrap up by going through Oscar Pareja’s choices at the forward positions.
Any discussion of Orlando City’s forwards must start with Nani. The Portuguese superstar came in with the hype machines blazing last February and was as good as advertised, leading the team with 12 goals and 10 assists. Nani was the first player in Orlando City MLS history to hit double digit goals and assists in the same season, setting a new club single-season record for total goal contributions in the process.
And yet, there’s reason to be bullish on the captain’s chances to exceed his 2019 totals in 2020. Nani came to Orlando last year having already played 28 games in all competitions for Sporting CP from August 2018 through January 2019, totaling over 2,000 minutes in that span. He had barely any time to recuperate before debuting for Orlando in the season opener on March 2. Nani went on to play over 2,500 minutes in all competitions for the Lions, pushing him near the 5,000-minute mark in about 14 months of almost non-stop soccer.
With a full offseason of rest and a complete preseason with new Head Coach Oscar Pareja, Nani should come out firing in 2020. In fact, he already has–his four goals led all Orlando City players in preseason. Nani will miss the first two games of the season through suspension, but Orlando’s relative lack of mid-week travel compared to their 2019 slate is a positive for Nani’s chances to feature regularly the rest of the way. Bet the over on the captain.
The rest of the winger group will need to produce goals, as well. The Lions sport considerable depth at the position, returning Chris Mueller, Benji Michel, and Robinho, while adding Homegrown teenager Jordan Bender to the mix. Mueller has produced consistently in his first two years as a pro and could be in position to make a leap in 2020. Michel’s six goals down the stretch were a pleasant surprise in 2019, and the Homegrown will get opportunities this year thanks to his pace and tireless work ethic. Robinho, a recent U.S. Green Card recipient, brings technical skill and know-how to the flank, while Bender is arguably the most exciting prospect the Orlando City DA has produced to date, a tantalizing combination of raw athleticism and playmaking ability. Bender is just 18-years-old, but the future is very bright.
Orlando’s striker group is an interesting mix of veterans and youngsters, and Pareja has decisions to make within it. Dom Dwyer has a point to prove in 2020 after a disappointing 2019 and was enjoying a fabulous preseason before a lower body injury caused him to miss the final three weeks–here’s hoping Dwyer is able to return soon and get back to his 2018 form. Tesho Akindele had a career year in 2019, banging home 10 goals and bringing a rock solid presence at both center forward and right wing. Akindele is now reunited with Pareja, for whom he played for five years at FC Dallas. No. 5 overall draft pick Daryl Dike has both fans and decision makers excited with his massive 6’2”, 220-pound frame and surprisingly technical game, while Santiago Patino returns after a promising rookie season in 2019.