ORLANDO, Fla. — Mauricio Pereyra returned to the starting lineup for Orlando City on Saturday night after spending two weeks on the bench with a lower body injury.
Although Pereyra had only played 106 minutes during two games for the Lions entering the New England match, his skill in the midfield has created a buzz. His impact isn’t typically reflected on the stat sheet — Pereyra has yet to notch an assist and has only taken one shot in a purple jersey.
However, Pereyra’s on-ball skill creates space for Orlando City’s attack, stretching defenses and opening up passing lanes. His first start in Exploria Stadium against Atlanta showed flashes of his ability to challenge aggressively and create disruptive pressure on a backline. However, he also suffered an injury in that game, forcing another return to the sidelines.
The loss of Pereyra could have caused a drop of pace in the midfield for the Lions, but Cristian Higuita returned to balance out the midfield, adding a spark of speed.
The New England offered the first opportunity for Pereyra to play alongside Higuita, who made a return on the road against San Jose. With Uri Rosell out due to yellow card accumulation, Pereyra’s return to the field bolstered the midfield that had lost three players during the past week due to national team call-ups.
Coach James O’Connor has been hesitant to overplay Pereyra since he first arrived in Orlando at the end of July. The midfielder worked for three weeks before earning his first minutes on the pitch. Ahead of the New England match, O’Connor said Pereyra is not close to 100% yet and will continue to build toward a level of fitness that will allow him to play his first full game.
However, O’Connor sees Pereyra’s impact as vital as the team finishes out the season.
“We want him to play a big part this year,” O’Connor said. “He’s shown when he’s played that he can impact the game and he’s got good quality. We want to get him in a position where he can give his best performance.”