Orlando City signed veteran defender Alex De John to a one-year contract back on Jan. 10 to add depth to a back line that had leaked the most goals in MLS history just last season. Depth is all De John ultimately provided, albeit all across the back line — both at center back and as an emergency fullback when needed. The 28-year-old had been playing in Finland and Sweden since 2013, but came home to play professionally in what was a low-risk move for the club since De John didn’t require an international slot and only cost $146,600 in guaranteed salary.
Although he got some early minutes due to Lamine Sané needing time to recover from injury and a delay in getting Robin Jansson through international paperwork and integrated into the team, De John largely disappeared from the 18 much of the season, especially after sustaining a concussion at Portland. He was kicked in the face by Brian Fernandez early in that July 18 match, left after 12 minutes, and didn’t see the pitch for the rest of the season although he was not on the injury report after the following week.
De John appeared in six MLS games (all starts) for a total of 406 minutes. He did not score or assist on a goal and managed only one shot attempt, which was not on target. A gentlemanly player, De John committed only three fouls this season and received one yellow card. He averaged 0.5 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per game. His tackles per game place him last among defenders in that category and he’s ahead of only Kyle Smith’s 0.6 in interceptions per game. His 0.3 blocks per game was last among players who appeared at center back, although in fairness he did play some fullback.
However, he led Orlando City in average clearances per game, with an impressive 5.8. He averaged 0.2 key passes per match and passed at an 81% rate, placing him third among center backs and fourth among all defenders in the latter category.
In the U.S. Open Cup, De John appeared in three of the team’s four matches for 112 minutes, starting at Memphis and coming off the bench against New York City FC and Atlanta. He had one shot attempt in the tournament and drew one free kick.
De John’s best contribution this season came near his hometown when the Lions traveled to New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls on March 23 in a 1-0 win. Orlando City played a 3-5-2 in that match and the safety-first nature of the approach to that game led to only a 50% passing rate for De John, although passing rates were down across the board, especially on the back line. The defender earned a 6.5 rating in that match in our player ratings, as selected by Jenn Glasheen.
De John was back in the starting XI near his hometown in front of a huge crowd of supporters. Before going off in the 65th minute with a leg injury after a challenge, De John was having a decent game with three interceptions, six clearances, and a blocked shot. His pass success rate was 53%. No major errors made him a valuable member of the back line.
Unfortunately for De John, he was forced out of the game with a leg injury in the 66th minute, but it was a good outing and at the time the 3-5-2 looked like Orlando’s best way to approach things.
2019 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff average rating for De John was a 5, which is pretty much in line with his individual game grades. He was a bit inconsistent at times, but that’s not surprising given that he never had a chance to really settle in with regular minutes and he played early in the season between Shane O’Neill and rookie Kamal Miller. His inability to get back in the 18 consistently after he returned from the injury in the 1-1 draw at Portland is a bit surprising, particularly with the inconsistency of O’Neill.
De John signed only a one-year deal in January, so it would require a new deal to bring him back unless there’s a club option that is exercised. He’s an affordable depth player and he showed some signs of being a useful reserve despite not getting consistent minutes. He’s certainly not the guy you want to have playing fullback if other options are available, but for around $100,000 to $130,000 he can be a good depth value at center back and can give emergency minutes out wide. While he didn’t seem to be in James O’Connor’s favor, perhaps a new coach would have a different view. My prediction is that he’s not coming back unless it’s for fewer dollars.