For Yoshimar Yotún, 2018 is arguably shaping up to be the most important year of his professional career.Yotún will be playing his first full season with Orlando City, but most important, he will more than likely represent the Peruvian national team when it participates in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“This is a really nice year, to be honest. First because it’s my first full season with the squad, and I’m happy about that,” Yotun said. “I feel at home, which is important for me, I can be happy working. The World Cup, well that comes later this year in June, it’s hard not to think about it, but I have to work hard here, so I can play in the World Cup.”
Yotún played an role helping Peru qualify to its first FIFA World Cup in more than 30 years. La Blanquirroja defeated New Zealand 2-0 in aggregate on Nov. 15 to clinch one of the final World Cup spots.
That night, according to Yotún, 27, was one of the greatest moments of his career.
“It was incredible, 36 years the country had to wait to play in the World Cup, so to win the final game of a two-game series at home was truly incredible,” Yotún said.
Peru is paired with France, Australia and Denmark in Group C, and will kick off its World Cup campaign on June 16 against Denmark in Saransk.
But with five months to go until the World Cup, the midfielder says he knows what he can bring to his national team, so it’s not a matter of changing his game, but rather staying in form ahead of this summer.
“There’s nothing really that I have to show. My coach from the national team, Ricardo Gareca, knows me – knows how I play. He knows what I can bring, what I can contribute with,” Yotún said. “There are a lot of players in this league who will represent their teams in the World Cup: Panamanians, Costa Ricans, Uruguayans even Spanish. This league is growing tremendously, a lot of great and important players.”
“So, in terms of me showing what I can do, Jason [Kreis] and Gareca know all that I can do. It’s only a matter of getting called up for my national team.”
Yotún, who joined the Lions last summer, will play his first full season with Orlando this year, so he knows before he can think of Russia, he must focus on helping his club get off to a good start once the regular season begins in March.
“I like to talk about the objectives of the entire group, not necessarily my personal goals, and the goal is to make the playoffs,” Yotún said. “The team has struggled to make the playoffs previously and now we’re really focused on working hard this year.”
Kreis deployed Yotún at left back in his first games when he joined the club last summer, but gradually shifted him higher up the midfield. In terms of where in the field he will play, Yotún said the midfield seems to make the most sense.
“I don’t have a problem playing on the left side, but I also don’t have a problem playing in the middle where the coach has used me so far,” Yotún said. “[Kreis] wants me to be that connection between the midfield and the attack and with our new No. 10 [Josué Colmán,] I think it will make my job a lot easier to work with him.”
Starting from scratch
The 2018 revamped Orlando City squad feels similar to Sacha Kljestan’s first season with the New York Red Bulls in 2015.
“When I showed up in New York and Jesse Marsch took over, there was a bit of turnover that season. [Thierry] Henry and [Tim] Cahill and some of the big guys were out and a lot of the older guys were out,” Kljestan said. “There was a new generation coming through. And I was asked to help Jesse lead that team as well. Forming relationships with all these guys, we had Matt Miazga coming into the first team to really become a big-time player and guide him. Sean Davis and a couple of the younger guys, so I see similarities between my first year in New York and right now. I think it’s good to draw from those experiences.”
Kljestan is one of several new players Orlando has brought in this offseason.
The player departures include Kaká, Antonio Nocerino, Giles Barnes, Seb Hines and Rafael Ramos.