SANFORD, Fla. — Two Orlando City players are battling for time on the left side of the pitch.
Coach James O’Connor has repeatedly said he wants competition among players on the squad and defenders João Moutinho and Danilo Acosta are happy to oblige him.
Acosta started the first three matches of the season at left back/left wingback for Orlando City. Moutinho was injured early on, but once he got healthy, he was inserted into the starting XI. Moutinho impressed O’Connor during his first two starts and has since become the team’s consistent starter on the left side.
Acosta got another opportunity to play when O’Connor rotated the squad to face the Seattle Sounders. He played 85 minutes during the team’s 2-1 loss to Seattle, his first minutes in nearly two months.
“The mindset is the same as it has been since the start of the season, you know?” Acosta said. “Just keep working hard. Take advantage of the opportunity to get in. Once you have the opportunity, do what you’ve got to do. Do your best and help the team out.”
He added, “You’ve got to give credit to João. He’s been really good at that position. It’s a battle. It’s a battle every week on and off the field. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to take care of the little things and so far it’s been a battle. I think it’s been great.”
Moutinho returned to the starting lineup for Orlando City’s 5-1 thumping of FC Cincinnati.
“I think we make each other better, for sure,” Moutinho said of Acosta. “He’s obviously a very good player. He’s been helping me a lot and I think I’ve been helping him a lot. I definitely think it’s a healthy competition.”
With a smile, Acosta said he and Moutinho are still close off the pitch, despite the battle for playing time.
“If I’m playing or he’s playing, he knows that we’ll have a really good conversation before games,” Acosta said. “The things he’s got to do. Sometimes he’ll do the same thing with me. We both learn from each other and we both grow.”
O’Connor likes to see his outside backs high up the pitch and heavily involved in the attack. On the right side, Ruan uses his speed to blow by defenders, while on the left, Moutinho is a quality passer. He’s second on the team with three assists.
“This is the big thing for us,” O’Connor said after Moutinho’s second start. “With Danilo as well, we’ve spoke a lot about what we want from that position, the needs of that position and, again, when you get competition like that, it’s when you’re in the team, stay in the team. And if you’re coming off the bench, impact the game, because if you don’t, there’s players who will.”
Moutinho is in just his second season in MLS after he was drafted No. 1 overall last season by LAFC. He’s started in nine of 13 regular-season matches for the Lions this season after starting 10 league matches for LAFC last season.
“That’s what every player wants, and I’m no different,” Moutinho said about getting consistent minutes. “I want to play as much as possible, hopefully every game. I’ve been able to do that recently and I’m happy with that.”
Acosta said he’s looking to work on improving his attacking mindset.
“I’ve got the defending part,” he said. “I know that. But I can say, attack a little more. I love to defend. I’m a defender. I think attacking-wise, [I can] improve a little more.”
On the flip side, Moutinho said he’s working to get better as a defender. The young Portuguese left back said Acosta has been a good source of advice.
For both players, the battle for time is fun, Acosta said.
“It wouldn’t be fun if you didn’t have anyone to compete against,” Acosta said with another wide smile. “Then you would be like, alright, be casual all the time. It’s like, ‘Alright. That’s my position. I won’t lose it. I know that.’
“Having someone who is working the same with you, even harder than you, it pushes you to your limits. It makes you get better. You get better and the whole team gets better.”
Orlando City SC has hired Leonardo Baldo as the team’s new head scout. He’ll report directly to director of scouting Ricardo Moreira and will oversee scouting in South America. Baldo worked with Moreira while the two were at Columbus Crew SC.
Baldo was present for the Lions’ Tuesday morning training session. The addition of Baldo means Moreira now has three scouts working underneath him.