Orlando City SC

Orlando City 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
Can Orlando City maintain their Playoff status in 2022? | Image: Matthew Burt.
Can Orlando City maintain their Playoff status in 2022? | Image: Matthew Burt. /

Orlando City head into the 2022 season looking to once again prove their MLS Cup Playoff credentials.

After years of struggle, Oscar Pareja has guided the Lions into the post-season for two years running. A steadily increasing flow of talent has turned Orlando into a pretty formidable force.

But a number of Eastern Conference teams have strengthened significantly over the winter and staying in the top seven will be no easy task.

Here's everything you need to know about Orlando City ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did Orlando City perform in 2022?

Orlando City took the East by storm in the early stages of the 2021 regular-season, losing just one of their opening 10 games. But from that point on, it was utter inconsistency, and a four-game losing streak in September left them in real danger of missing out on the Playoffs altogether.

Ultimately, they restabilized and a hard-fought 2-0 Decision Day win at CF Montreal punched their ticket. And that's where their journey ended, with Nashville SC completing a comfortable 3-1 win over the Lions in Round One of the Playoffs.

Orlando City transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Facundo Torres (from Penarol, $7.5m)
  • Cesar Araujo (from Montevideo Wanderers, $2m)
  • Ercan Kara (from Rapid Vienna, $880k)
  • Nathan Dossantos (SuperDraft)
  • Jack Lynn (SuperDraft)

Transfers out

  • Daryl Dike (to West Brom, $10m)
  • Chris Mueller (to Hibernian, free transfer)
  • Nani (to Venezia, free transfer)
  • Emmanuel Mas (to Estudiantes, free transfer)
  • Uri Rosell (to Sporting KC, free transfer)
  • David Loera (to San Antonio, free transfer)
  • Raul Aguilera (to Indy Eleven, free transfer)
  • Derek Dodson (to Memphis 901, free transfer)
  • Rio Hope-Gund (to Loudoun United, free transfer)
  • Nathan Dossantos (to Pittsburgh Riverhounds, free transfer)
  • Alexander Alvarado (to LDU Quito, loan)
  • Jordan Bender (released)

Oscar Pareja: Tactics and style of play

In his 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 hybrids, Oscar Pareja very much sets Orlando up to be tough to break down. The Lions conceded 48 goals during the 2021 regular-season, but that stat is a little skewed by allowing five against NYCFC and four against Montreal, and their xA was actually a healthy 42.1, the fifth-best in the East. They ranked okay on clean sheets, too, with nine.

That's how they'll likely approach things again in 2022, with a double-pivot of Junior Urso and Jhegson Mendez protecting the center-backs and allowing the full-backs freedom to provide width in the attack. The wingers (likely record signing Facundo Torres and Benji Michel) will look to tuck inside and operate centrally, where they'll create space for Mauricio Pereyra and combine with Ercan Kara.

Orlando have recruited well this winter but the losses of Daryl Dike and Nani will still be felt. The new arrivals need time to adjust, so Pareja has a big task on his hands balancing solidity with attacking freedom.

Orlando City predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Gallese; Ruan, Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Moutinho; Jr Urso, Mendez; Michel, Pereyra, Torres; Kara.

Who are Orlando City's key players?

Facundo Torres

One of the most eye-catching MLS transfers of the winter is Orlando City's capture of Facundo Torres for $7.5m.

The Uruguayan is among the most exciting talents in South America, already capped 10 times at senior level, and with 31 combined goals and assists in 71 club appearances.

Torres will bring speed, skill, and excitement to the Orlando attack, but how quickly can he adjust to the physical and travel demands of MLS?

Ercan Kara

Daryl Dike scored 11 goals in 19 appearances for Orlando City last season, despite arriving late due to his loan with Barnsley and suffering some fitness issues. In short, he was vital to getting them over the Playoff line.

But the USMNT star is now back in England with West Brom. His replacement, Ercan Kara, has some big shoes to fill.

The Austrian comes with a good pedigree, though, with 37 goals and 16 assists in 84 appearances for Rapid Vienna so far, including nine goals in 17 league appearances this season.

Kara has to replicate those numbers in MLS for Orlando City to remain a Playoff team.

Pedro Gallese

Pedro Gallese overperformed his xA by 1.43 last season, which basically means he prevented just under one-and-a-half goals that he would reasonably be expected to concede. By his own lofty standards, that represents quite a poor season - for context, Andre Blake and Matt Turner were the league's frontrunners in this metric with 7.71 and 7.30, respectively.

Even so, Gallese can still be counted among the best goalkeepers in MLS thanks to his cat-like reflexes and shot-stopping. He'll need to stand tall when called upon this season as his outfield teammates gel will new arrivals.

A top-class goalkeeper can make all the difference in MLS - just ask the last two Supporters' Shield winners.

Orlando City 2022 season prediction

On paper, Orlando now have the potential to become an even stronger team than they've been for the last two years. The problem is getting their new pieces acclimated in time to make 2022 a success.

There's every chance the Lions maintain their standing and they'll definitely be competitive, but this might prove to be a transition year that gears them up for a big 2023.

Prediction: 8th in the Eastern Conference