When you are roughly 60 percent through any season, you can clearly see the integral pieces of any team. Specifically, you can see how said pieces have helped throughout the season, and their possible upside to contribute in the future. Unlike other teams however, this is Orlando’s inaugural season. So, we are now at a point where we can really evaluate without being too premature. With that being said, let’s discuss the four most important players for Orlando City Soccer Club, why they are and have been the most important, and why others just arent quite as key for Florida’s fast-growing soccer baby.
4. Kevin Molino
After his season-ending ACL injury, one would think his impact on this season wouldnt last. When you further consider the fact that he only played seven games and wasnt overly impressive in terms of statistics, it doesnt make sense for him to be on this list. However, in those seven games, statistics didnt tell the whole story on the field and certainly not off the field. Could Molino’s presence off the field be any more obvious than when Kaka put on a Molino jersey to celebrate his goal against the Galaxy in May? No it couldnt. Similarly, it was entirely telling when Kaka and Molino played together. They were the major factors for Orlando City in the final third and a majority of the time, were the only factors. They’d combine with exuberance, improvise swiftly, and from time to time completely ignore teammates to work with each other instead. It was a beautiful friendship and one that should pay great dividends once Molino is healthy again. Thankfully for Orlando, others have taken responsibility and stepped up to the plate post-Molino.
2. “Whoa Austin, way to totally miss Kaka’s paragraph.” Have no fear. It was on purpose. That’s how obviously important Kaka is. He simply needs no introduction. However, you may be surprised he’s placed at third on a ranked list. Soon, you wont be.
2. Aurelien Collin
25th in the league in interceptions with 50 and a 3.8 per game average as well as nine blocked shots and 75 clearances (top 35 in the league in both categories) and his always present over-aggession, Aurelien Collin is the embodiment of a mind game. He’s unpredictable, he’s a leader, and he’s one of the strongest players on Orlando’s roster, physically and mentally.
Orlando City are a side built from the back. With Collin anchoring and co-stars Seb Hines, Sean St Ledger, and Rafael Ramos shining bright, it’s not surprising Orlando have the third fewest goals scored against them in the Eastern Conference at this time. That’s not even beginning to mention the likes of Darwin Ceren, Cristian Higuita, Amobi Okugo, Luke Boden, and Brek Shea who have boosted an already strong defensive unit for the Lions. Then of course, you have Corey Ashe coming in from Houston, who will be yet another quality MLS leftback that Adrian Heath can depend on. Defensively, Orlando will just get better with an average age of 23.6 from the defensive midfield to the back four and defensive depth.
Two great examples of Orlando being an adamant defensive side were the 1-1 draws against San Jose in May and most recently, against Real Salt Lake. Both matches, Orlando suffered a red card in the first 55 minutes, away from home. Even better yet, they were without Collin both times. A question arises here on Collin’s importance because of success regardless of his presence. However, despite not being there, your best centerback is always vital to the success of the team. In training, Collin will push St Ledger and Hines. Off and on the field, he will lead fellow defenders on how to go about being a professional, at 29. While on the field, he will organize, architect, structure, and define how Orlando play football out of the back. Not to mention, he’s carried vital league experience over from his previous MLS side, Sporting Kansas City. Though, there is something or someone even more important than Monsieur Collin. Remember folks, Captain America would be lost without his shield.
1. Darwin Ceren
If you arent familiar with Ceren statistically this season, you’re probably very confused as to why he’s number one here. Again, soon, you wont. Given Orlando’s knack for being a defensive side, their lead defensive midfielder is always going to be key. I’d be surprised if anyone expected Ceren to perform as well as he has so far this season however. The Salvadoran averages 3.8 tackles a game this season and is 8th in the league in tackles won with 46. Not only that but he has completed 88.1% of his passes this season. Which, again, makes him 8th in the league in that category. Taking it even further, he has the highest passing average per game rate at 69.9, in the league. So, he completes the most passes per game while being one of the most successful in the league. One could argue he would be the most successful in the league if it werent for the amount of passes he tries to execute as well.
Surely, Ceren has to be one of the most surprising players of the 2015 MLS season. He’s only 25 as well but plays as if he is years older than that. Considering the promising and talented yet relatively raw Higuita next to him, at 21, it’s been so much more vital to the Orlando City cause that Ceren be on top of his game. He’s smooth, he’s confident, solid, and an absolute professional. Orlando might have the league’s next Osvaldo Alonso on their hands and without him Orlando take a big hit in possession and the defensive side of things.
When everything is said and done there are plenty more players that have contributed and will contribute in degrees for Orlando City. Who’s to gauge a player’s importance in a negative manner? It’s only necessary to bring light to those who definitively deserve it and these four players absolutely do. As for Kaka, there’s no questioning his dedication, performance, or much of anything. It’s only a matter of Collin and Ceren exemplifying exactly what Orlando needs to be the successful defensive unit they are.
(image property of Austin Farrow)