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Orlando City’s Tony Rocha fills multiple roles

Orlando City FC midfielder Tony Rocha (8) passes the ball during the second half of a match against the New England Revolution at Orlando City Stadium. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

A casual Orlando City fan could be forgiven for not knowing Tony Rocha’s natural position.

At this point in the season, the 24-year-old Spring, Texas, native has been all over the pitch. Just about of his MLS stats this season are career highs. He’s played in 10 league games this season (seven starts) and has three assists in 672 match minutes.

Listed as a midfielder, Rocha has been a left back, a winger, a centerback and a defensive mid. Under coach James O’Connor during Orlando City’s past two matches, he’s seen some consistency, but not much. During both of Orlando City’s last two matches, he’s started as a defensive mid alongside Cristian Higuita and has been shifted around according to the club’s needs.

Rocha, a relatively quiet player on Orlando City’s roster, just keeps chugging along. When asked how he stays ready despite his various roles, he said, “I think just being prepared no matter where I’m going to play and just knowing my role wherever they’re going to put me in.”

Rocha has started three of the six matches O’Connor has coached the Lions.

“Yeah he’s definitely put a lot of confidence in me, that no matter where I’m playing that I’m going to be able to get the job done,” Rocha said about the Lions’ new coach.

O’Connor said Rocha is the type of flexible player he tries to recruit.

“It makes it very hard for the opposition because you never quite sure where that player’s going to end up on the field. We’re pretty intentional with trying to create players like that. They can do a lot, whether it’s in defense or attack and they can play multiple positions.

“I think that gives a little more flexibility, whether it’s a formation or whatever it is, an attacking play or a defensive play, it gives you the flexibility to be able to cause the opposition some problems.”

Rocha’s versatility has been his biggest weapon during a season when the Lions have been plagued by injuries. He got his first start of the season against the Chicago Fire at centerback after Laminé Sane went down earlier in the week with what at the time was called a lower body injury.

That was back when Jason Kreis was still the coach of the team. Since then, Rocha has been used in more attacking situations. The Tulsa University product has tallied an assist during each of his last two matches.

Still, when he’s needed, he’s used on the back line.

By the end of Orlando City’s 3-3 draw against the New England Revolution during the weekend, Rocha was a centerback in a 3-5-2 formation while Orlando City searched for an equalizer.

“For us, he’s been able to fill in,” O’Connor said about Rocha. “We’ve had lots of injuries, suspension or whatever it is that Tony’s been able to step in. He’s played left back for us. He’s played the midfield. The back end of last week, he dropped into the middle [at] centerback.

“When you look at his versatility, I think that’s been a real bonus for us. I think it’s been needed. We’ve been pleased with Tony, as we have with most of the players. … His ability to be very open is important. To take on board and to do a job for the team whether it’s at left back, the middle of defense or midfield, he’s very open to all that and he wants to put the team first, which is very important for us.”

Orlando City’s back line is constantly shifting. Since O’Connor’s first match as head coach on July 7 against LAFC, the Lions haven’t trotted out the same four players in defense in consecutive matches.

“It doesn’t make it that difficult because a lot of the guys back there communicate well and so it makes my job a lot easier no matter who’s playing back there,” Rocha said about Orlando City’s ever-changing back line.

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