Orlando City signed Benji Michel on New Year’s Eve 2018. The ex-Montverde Academy forward became the club’s fifth Homegrown Player in the club’s MLS era. James O’Connor slowly introduced the rookie to the side, but by the end of the season, Michel was seeing the field for just about every game.
Here’s how Michel’s rookie season went:
Michel finished his rookie season with 17 appearances and nine starts in MLS. He also came off the bench in three U.S. Open Cup matches. His 1,029 league minutes are ranked 17th among Orlando City players. Out of the 27 players that made an MLS appearance for the Lions, Michel played more than 63% of them.
The 21-year-old racked up just 12 minutes in the first 11 matches. In Orlando’s last 11 games, Michel put up 546 minutes, four goals, and an assist. He got on the stat sheet in one other game and finished the year with five goals in MLS play. That ties him with Chris Mueller for the fourth-most goals for the Lions on the season. In goals per minute, Michel is third with a goal every 189 MLS minutes. Only Tesho Akindele (188 minutes per goal) and Santiago Patino (161 minutes per goal) have a better ratio.
Michel proved that he is one of the better young players in the league this season. Out of all players under 22 years old, Michel has the sixth most goals and is tied for the fourth-most minutes per goal. However, Michel did it with significantly fewer shots. Michel’s shots-per-goal ratio is more than half of the next best in the top six. He scored a goal every 2.2 shots. Additionally, only Minnesota United’s Mason Toye had fewer minutes in that category than Michel.
The University of Portland product also helped out on the defensive end. He finished the year with seven tackles, five interceptions, 13 clearances, and seven blocks. Those numbers are all on the low end, but not poor numbers for a forward.
There is no doubt over what Michel’s best game was. While the team lost 5-2 in the season finale, Michel was a constant threat in front of the net and was the Man of the Match. He started out in just the second minute, helping put the team on top. He had excellent awareness to stay onside and then was in all alone in Chicago’s half. He attempted to dribble around Chicago goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm but took a poor touch. Instead of giving up, he stayed with the play, laid it off to Tesho Akinedele, and got rewarded with his first MLS assist.
His goal in that match was a classic striker’s goal. It started from a beautiful through ball from Sacha Kljestan. Michel once again found himself in a one-on-one situation with Kronholm, but this time his touch was perfect, and he slipped the ball into the back of the net.
The one moment where he should have done better was at the tail end of the match. Chris Mueller headed the ball across the frame of the net. The rookie decided to bring the ball down and then shoot. The extra touch gave Kronholm enough time to get over, and Michel’s shot hit the ‘keeper. The 21-year-old finished with five shots, four on target, and three key passes.
Michel was also positioned more centrally than he had been in most of his other games. He typically played on the wing, but in this match, he was a true striker. This is where he has played for most of his youth career and looked more comfortable in that position.
2019 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Michel a composite grade of 6 for the 2019 season. In fact, a six for Michel for unanimous. His struggles to see the field at the beginning of the season certainly played a role in this. He still needs to continue to develop, and other than the final game of the season, he looked a rookie for the most part of the season. Still, five goals and an assist in 17 games are good numbers for any player, let alone a rookie. He is a player who will not stop running, and his never-say-die attitude was in full effect every time he stepped on the field.
Once again, Orlando City is searching for a new head coach. This puts everything in jeopardy as far as who will be on the team next year and the minutes they get. Luiz Muzzi seems to be all in on signing local Orlando players, though, so, combined with his excellent rookie season, Michel should be fighting for a starting spot next season. With Dom Dwyer, Akindele, Santiago Patino, and Nani already on the roster, and the team likely to bring in at least another forward this off-season, it could be more challenging to get minutes in Michel’s sophomore season.