After a season-ending knee injury in 2021, Orlando City forward Alexandre Pato is back and better than ever.
The player also stands as the team’s joint-leading scorer alongside midfielder Junior Urso. His efforts are not going unnoticed, earning the high praise of head coach Oscar Pareja.
“I think he started on the right foot with being connected with his teammates on the training [ground] and the effort and the connectivity we all aim to have in the team. His talent is there, his experience is there and I think he has a lot to contribute to the team,” Pareja said.
“The second aspect is so far it has worked that we have been rotating him and giving him confidence, but at the same time giving him time to recover well, to get the energy back and select in what game he can be part of and help us and which one is another player. I think that will be really useful for us until he gets the rhythm he will get.”
Pato’s return has lifted the team, even pushing winger Facundo Torres and Austrian international striker Ercan Kara to their best. While many expected Orlando City to struggle after Daryl Dike, Nani and Chris Mueller all departed during the offseason, Pareja has kept the team afloat.
“They’re more talented than they were last year. That’s the most talented front four that we’ve faced and I think it’s the most talented front four that I think Oscar’s had,” revealed Columbus Crew head coach Caleb Porter.
“They have a true No. 9 in Kara who’s 6-foot-4, strong, nice feet, good hold-up player. Pato’s a world-class player, so you lose Mueller but you get Pato back who was injured last year and is a world-class player.
"In the box, he’s got as much quality as anyone in our league in and around the goal. Torres is a very nice payer, really direct, left-footed, provides a lot of width. And Pereyra’s really come into his own, really smart, good rhythm player, likes to overload wide, works in the half-spaces.”
But praise from the opposition is no guarantee as Pareja preaches confidence and patience before facing the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
“Patience with us is the road right now,” Pareja said. “With them, it’s just [getting] back the confidence, let our players, our offensive players who are normally in the box, that they get that momentum of scoring. We really need it.”