Nani has filled up the early headlines for Orlando City, and deservedly so. The captain is on a tear to start 2021, scoring an AT&T Goal of the Week nominee in each of his past three matches, winning the award for his spectacular effort against Cincinnati.
Beyond Nani, though, there have been multiple strong performers that have helped propel Orlando to an unbeaten start, leaving the Lions as one of the four remaining undefeated teams in the league. Let’s tip some caps to a few of them:
Ecuadorian international Sebas Méndez made a strong impression upon joining Orlando City in 2019 at the tender age of 21, starting 20 matches and making his Copa America debut. After an up and down 2020 in which he only started 11 times, Méndez has entrenched himself in Oscar Pareja’s starting XI with a series of terrific performances to start 2021.
Méndez has long been known as a stud defender, but his passing out of the deep-lying No. 6 midfield role has been the difference maker for him this season. Méndez leads all of MLS, by far, in passes completed, with his 257 passes a whole 19 ahead of second-place Bressan of FC Dallas as of May 11. Méndez is also in the top 10 in the league in long passes completed among non-goalkeepers. All the while, his defense has remained strong, as he leads Orlando City with ten tackles.
Orlando City have conceded just one goal from open play through their first four matches, tied with Seattle for the best rate in MLS. That’s in large part due to the work of silky center back Antonio Carlos, whose graceful tackles and interceptions have made him a fan favorite since coming from Palmeiras last winter.
Antonio Carlos has won 15 of his 20 duels so far this year, good for the best percentage on the team. He’s tied for the team lead with seven interceptions and ranks fifth among non-goalkeepers in all of MLS with 24 long passes completed. Confident both on and off the ball, Antonio Carlos remains a rock at the back for Orlando and one of the best defenders in the entire league.
The “all-terrain” Bear, as my colleague Miguel Gallardo likes to call him, has lived up to the epithet in 2021. As consistent as he is lethal, Urso takes charge of the middle of the field, winning two-thirds of his duels (24 for 36) while tying Antonio Carlos for the team lead in interceptions. Urso has also drawn more fouls than any other Lion, taking seven on the young season.
A true box-to-box midfielder, Urso is as effective in attack as he is in defense. He scored his first goal of the season against FC Cincinnati and has been a reliable facilitator from back to front, ranking third on the team in passes completed in the opposing half while completing passes at over an 88% clip. Urso is the beating heart of the Orlando City midfield, the man in the middle who does it all.