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Orlando City left back Mohamed El-Munir anchors revamped back line

Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer (center) celebrates with defender Mohamed El-Munir (13) and forward Stefano Pinho (29) after scoring against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Through six Orlando City matches, the only player who has been a constant on the back line has been left back Mohamed El-Munir.

He’s one of four players who have played in all 540 minutes of Orlando City’s season. The other three are midfielders Will Johnson and Yoshi Yotún and goalkeeper Joe Bendik.

That means El-Munir also is the only new addition for the Lions who’s played in every minute of every match this season.

He’s had his high points, like running down D.C. United’s Darren Mattocks to stop a goal that likely would have sealed the match for United. He’s also had some lows in his first MLS campaign – some attackers have snuck in behind him unmarked and his late challenge on Sebastián Blanco during Orlando City’s 3-2 win over Portland led to a penalty.

El-Munir readily admits he’s still improving. The 25-year-old Libyan international said he was away from the game for “five, six months” before coming to Orlando and was worried about sustaining an injury early on because of his absence from the pitch. He praised the coaching staff for ensuring training sessions steadily increased the fitness levels of the Lions.

“I can say I’m happy,” he said. “This is not the best performance I have, but every game, I’m taking step-by-step so I can get the performance I’m going to be happy with and everybody is going to be happy with.”

During Orlando City’s match against the Philadelphia Union, El-Munir had four interceptions, five clearances and blocked a shot from C.J. Sapong that looked like it was bound for the back of the net. 

One of El-Munir’s four interceptions was another prime example of his speed. He got to the ball first in a footrace against Fafà Picault — the ball was right outside the penalty area. 

Last match, all four players in back for Orlando City were new additions to the club. Right back Scott Sutter didn’t travel with the club to Pennsylvania due to a “lower body injury.” Team captain and center back Jonathan Spector (concussion) also stayed in Orlando.

Right back RJ Allen went down with an injury during the first half.

“We need to work on communication so we can defend and we can understand each other more and more,” El-Munir said.

Pinho relishes MLS opportunity

Striker Stéfano Pinho just wants to get on the pitch on match days.

Against the Philadelphia Union, he played out of his typical position up top, filling in as a winger on the left side with Justin Meram on the bench to start the match. He had three shots (one on target) and two interceptions against the Union.

Pinho, 2017 NASL Golden Ball and Golden Boot award winner, made a name for himself as a goal-scorer with Miami FC. Now, he’s just looking to continue his run in MLS. He said he’s improving his fitness after suffering an ankle injury in the second match of the season.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Pinho said with a smile. “It’s a new challenge in my life so I’m looking forward to being good in MLS like I was in NASL.”

He added, “[Playing on the wing] is not my first choice, but if I can help Orlando [by] playing there, I’ll play. I’m happy to be on the field, you know?”

MLS Team of the Week

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan was named to the MLS Team of the Week starting XI. He assisted on striker Dom Dwyer’s goal against the Philadelphia Union – Dwyer’s fourth goal in three matches. Goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who had six saves against the Union, was named to the bench.

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