After joining Orlando City during its final season at the USL level in 2014, 20-year-old Rafael Ramos was the primary right back for Adrian Heath’s club in its inaugural MLS campaign in 2015. The speedy Portuguese defender, who joined OCSC from Benfica, showed a lot of promise in his first season in the American top flight, but he also fell victim to mental lapses that will hopefully be phased out of his game as he gains more experience.
Rafa appeared 25 times for City in MLS play this season, with 24 of those as a starter and only one coming as a substitute–against Philadelphia in the last match of the season. Ramos totaled 1,999 minutes for the Lions, the third-most minutes on the back line for Orlando, behind only Aurélien Collin and Luke Boden.
Ramos’ speed allowed him to cover a lot of ground on the right flank, and he finished the year averaging 1.6 tackles per match to go along with 1.5 interceptions, 1.3 clearances and 0.8 fouls. Rafa contributed going forward as well, providing width in attack and playing in some nice crosses, like the one he curled onto Cyle Larin‘s head for a goal in a comeback draw against New England on May 8.
Unfortunately, the young Ramos struggled at times to keep his cool on the pitch. After committing an error that led to a goal against Columbus on April 18, Ramos committed a studs-up tackle minutes later out of pure frustration that saw him earn a straight red card in what went on to be a 3-0 loss for Orlando. He was also sent off in a 5-0 drubbing at Toronto on Aug. 22. Ramos' promising combination of speed and skill is of no use to the Lions if he's not on the field, and he will need to learn from these send-offs moving forward to remain in matches and avoid suspension.
When he was on the pitch, though, Ramos almost always went the distance. He played 90 minutes in 21 of his 25 outings, with two being cut short by the red cards and one being cut short by injury, when he suffered a gash to his forehead in a collision with Tommy Redding after just 11 minutes vs. Montreal on Oct. 3.
Ramos’ best outing for the Lions in 2015 came in the 1-1 draw at San Jose on May 24. The Lions were cut down to 10 men by a weak red card to Brek Shea, and Ramos stepped up to help City scrap its way to a 1-1 draw on the west coast. Ramos finished that evening with a pair of tackles, four interceptions and five clearances. His effort helped hold the Quakes off the scoreboard from open play, with the only concession coming via a penalty by Chris Wondolowski after a clumsy Darwin Cerén tackle inside the 18. Ramos came close to scoring on a blasted left-footed shot from distance in the 61st minute, as well.
Ramos figures to be an integral part of the Lions' side once again in 2016. He will be just 21 years old when the season gets underway, and he was clearly Heath's first-choice right back when he was healthy and available this past season. Provided he is able to limit the mental mistakes that troubled him at times during '15, Ramos has a high ceiling and should take another step towards reaching it in '16.
Final 2015 Rating
The Mane Land staff settled on a 6.5 rating for Rafa in 2015. His work rate and contributions at both ends of the field would have earned him a 7.0 or 7.5 on their own, but the temporary lapses in judgment and the pair of red cards knocked him down a bit.