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Orlando City wingback João Moutinho ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Lions

Orlando City SC defender Joao Moutinho (44) and D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) fight to control the ball during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City left wingback João Moutinho has achieved what he spent the early part of his time in Central Florida fighting for: a chance to start.  

He earned his first career MLS assist during his first start with the Lions, contributing to Orlando City’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago.

During his second start, Orlando City’s 2-1 loss to D.C. United, Moutinho had more touches than any other player on the pitch – and it wasn’t close. He had 91 touches. The player with the second-most touches on the team was centerback Robin Jansson, who had 74. Midfielder Luciano Acosta led D.C. United with 76 touches.

Moutinho made the most of his touches, completing 81.5 percent of his 54 passes.

“I’ve been enjoying getting the playing time,” Moutinho said. “The most important thing is getting wins. We were able to do that in New York. We were not able to do that this past week, but there are some positives that we can take from that game and I’m sure we’ll have a great response this Saturday.”

Moutinho was acquired during the offseason from LAFC in exchange for left back Mohamed El-Munir. Moutinho, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, made 14 appearances (10 starts) for LAFC last season and scored a goal.

Moutinho’s preseason was derailed by a hamstring injury, but he was training with the team before its season opener against NYCFC.

“Obviously, when you get injured, it’s the worst that can happen,” Moutinho said. “With the great medical department that we have here, in two or three weeks I was able to play again. Thankfully, I was able to start.” 

Danilo Acosta started Orlando City’s first three matches.  

Acosta, who is looking to perform well while with the Lions and get back into the U.S. men’s national team picture, hasn’t been in Orlando City’s match-day 18 for its last two matches. Moutinho started at left wingback and went a full 90 minutes in both matches.

“This is the big thing for us,” O’Connor said. “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 said O’Connor has made clear what his expectations are for the left wingback position.

“He wants the wingbacks to go up and down the whole time,” he said. “You have to be fit and get your crosses in and also recover fast defensively.”

He added, “I think playing left wingback is good for me. It’s good to the attributes that I have. I think I fit with the system that we’re playing.”

Moutinho had seven recoveries against D.C. United. He nearly set up a goal for striker Dom Dwyer in the 54th minute of the match, but his cross was just out of reach.

He could get another chance to show what he can do when Orlando City hosts the Colorado Rapids at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday.

“He’s done very well,” O’Connor said of Moutinho. “We’ve had to manage, I mean, in the preseason, he picked up a knock and he was out, so we had to then be intentional about managing his load and his sort of return-to-play process.

“But since he’s come in, he’s been a breath of fresh air, really. When you look at the ability to get forward, the quality. He had a couple of really good passes, the one where he cuts it back to Dom, as well. We can be pleased with how he’s performed so far and hopefully we can continue that now on Saturday.”

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