What to expect from Luca Orellano

Chris Albright further bolstered FC Cincinnati’s Supporters’ Shield defense with the addition of 23-year-old Argentine Luca Orellano. Orellano arrives from Brazilian club Vasco de Gama on an initial loan through the end of the season, though FCC holds a purchase option next winter should the loan work out. 

How Does Orellano Fit In? 

Orellano primarily played as an inverted winger at Vasco da Gama, and before that, at Vélez Sarsfield. Simply put, he’s been a left-footed player on the right wing, able to cut infield to his stronger side. In 2022, Orellano played more than 2,700 minutes for Vélez Sarsfield, chipping in three goals and four assists. 

However, according to his advanced numbers, Orellano was one of the team’s most impactful attackers, contributing 5.5 expected goals and 5.9 expected goals and assists (0.37 xG + xGA per 90 minutes). Across more than 900 minutes in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club tournament, Orellano put up 0.32 xG + xGA per 90 minutes. 

For context, in 2023 Álvaro Barreal’s xG + xAG per 90 minutes was 0.39. It isn’t a one-to-one comparison, even accounting for league differences because of positional differences. Even on a 2022 Vélez Sarsfield team that struggled compared to 2021, Orellano demonstrated an ability to impact games at the highest level in South America as a 21-year-old.

Orellano received nearly nine progressive passes a game, indicating an ability to find space in the final third. With the ball around the box, Orellano completed just about two successful penalty area entries per game in 2022. 

Something else that jumps out of Orellano’s data profile is his ability on-the-ball in one-on-one situations. Per Fbref, Orellano attempted 6.67 take-ons per 90 minutes over the last year, succeeding in 50 percent. Granted, his minutes at Vasco da Gama were limited and mostly off the bench, but the trend carried forward from his tenure at Sarsfield. Though he succeeded less in 2022, in 2021, he attempted 6.60 take-ons with a 52 percent success rate. Basically, the Orange and Blue are getting a player who is willing to try to beat his defender on the dribble. For an FCC team lacking a dominant aerial threat in the box (coupled with the fact that crosses are an inefficient way of creating scoring chances anyways), Orellano’s ability on the ball should help to create cut-backs and other higher-quality scoring opportunities.

Orellano’s Instant Impact

When Álvaro Barreal remained on the roster, Orellano’s fit in the starting eleven was trickier to imagine. Playing two converted wingers as wingbacks surely would have led to FCC scoring more goals but also almost certainly would’ve sacrificed some defensive solidity out-of-possession. Now, following Barreal’s reported loan to Cruzeiro, Orellano should immediately slot into Barreal’s vacated position. Orellano’s limited experience at wingback means some defensive lapses shouldn’t be a surprise. However, his contributions going forward should make up for any defensive issues. Finding a replacement for Barreal’s creativity in the final third was never going to be easy. Chris Albright’s bet that another winger who began his career at Sarsfield can be converted into a nominal defender will be fascinating to follow. Orellano should have free reign in the final third, either to stay wide or to underlap, much like Barreal, making his transition from winger-to-wingback a little easier. 

How Noonan chooses to balance his backline will also be a major question. A more traditional wingback on the right, either Alvas Powell or Bret Halsey, would provide additional defensive stability. However, Yuya Kubo’s wingback debut in Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions Cup win in Jamaica offers a more aggressive option. Kubo’s comfort on the ball in all kinds of situations would offer attacking versatility from both wings if paired with Orellano on the left. 

How quickly Orellano can adjust to life in MLS will be a major question in FCC’s Supporters’ Shield defense. Noonan relied on Barreal for so much in the final third but Orellano profiles as a player who should be able to hit the ground running. 

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