There wasn’t any fanfare when midfielder Mauricio Pereyra took the pitch for the first time in a purple kit.
After weeks of buzz and excitement surrounded the new designated player’s arrival in Orlando, Pereyra’s first minutes on the pitch were quiet, an unannounced substitution at the half during Saturday’s match in Minnesota.
His impact on the ball, however, was anything but quiet. With all three designated players on the field for the first time in months, Orlando City kicked off the second half against the Loons with a new burst of energy and confidence.
Pereyra’s debut was far from perfect — at times, he struggled to connect with his new teammates, and he admitted that his fitness still isn’t at 100%. But for his teammates and coaches, his first showing for Orlando City lived up to the hype.
“I thought he did a good job at keeping the ball,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “That’s what he’s good at. It’s gonna take him a little time to get used to the style of the play, but we’ve signed a good player in Mauricio.”
Pereyra’s timeline for joining his teammates has been slow and cautious since his signing on July 30. The designated player arrived the next day and immediately hit the pitch, training for 20 minutes on his first day with the team.
But it had been more than two months since Pereyra finished the season with FC Krasnodar, a team in the Russian Premier League. Not only was he out of game shape; Pereyra wasn’t used to playing in the heat and humidity of Orlando or most MLS venues. His debut with the team coincided with one of the most temperate climates for August in MLS, playing in Minnesota with highs in the low 80s.
O’Connor made it clear from Pereyra’s arrival that the team would not rush the player’s introduction into the lineup. He was held out for the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup and did not play during his first two weeks in Orlando even as the Lions continued their push for the playoffs.
Although Pereyra pointed out areas of his fitness and connection with his team that he said he can improve, his teammates felt bolstered by his presence after his debut on the road.
“It was great to see him get some minutes,” Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe said. “He got into some good pockets, and you can see his composure on the ball. He definitely slows it down and he’s able to break lines to connect passes. He’ll be a good player for us heading forward.”
The designated player’s debut still reflected his newness to the team. While Pereyra’s on-ball control brought a steadying force to the team, he wasn’t always able to predict his teammates’ movement to make clean passes in the attacking third. Several series of give-and-go passes with Dom Dwyer fizzled out due to miscommunication, with balls flying wide or behind the two players as they attempted to connect.
Pereyra voiced frustration with his first performance, saying that he could feel that he and his teammates didn’t quite know each other well enough to play off each other as smoothly as he would have liked. But Pereyra understood that Saturday’s game was a vital first step in forging on-the-field connections with his teammates.
“It’s my first game and … maybe I’m not in the best physical [shape] now,” Pereyra said. “But I’m getting better every day and I need these minutes to be better every game. Maybe if I’m in better shape or better physical condition maybe I can get better balls. It’s important to know all the players and how they play and this takes a little bit of time.”