Orlando City officially announced the signing of U-22 player Gaston Gonzalez a little over a year ago on May 5, 2022. Excitement over the signing was quickly dashed as Gonzalez began his OCSC career on the season-ending injury list after an ACL injury suffered in the waning minutes of his final match with his old club. After the injury and recovery, Orlando fans had to wait until the second match of 2023 against FC Cincinnati to see their new winger debut.
In his first 11 MLS appearances — five starts — Gonzalez’s performances have been somewhat of a mixed bag so far, which was to be expected for a young player returning from serious injury. After registering his first start in the match against FC Cincinnati, Gonzalez spent the next several matches functioning primarily in a substitute role and did little that appeared on the final scoresheet. On the season, Gonzalez has contributed two assists across 541 minutes and has recorded one shot on target. His first assist came on the road against Minnesota United, when he sent a cross through the six-yard box to a streaking Ivan Angulo, who slotted home to tie the game at one apiece.
Orlando City finds itself in the midst of a hectic schedule of three games in eight days. The schedule congestion may be a logistical nightmare for the coaching and support staff but it appears that it may be providing Gonzalez with exactly what he needs — game time. Coming off of full 90-minute shifts throughout each of the last two matches, Gonzalez appears to be growing more comfortable with both the speed of the game and what his body is able to do coming back from injury.
This was on display in Orlando’s midweek tilt against New York City FC where Gonzalez put in his best effort to date as a Lion. There was a noticeable effort made to run a designed action for Gonzalez, with long crosses from the back line to his side of the field, where the winger had options to either attack the defense or find another attacker (usually Facundo Torres) with a quick first touch. It did not take long for this action to bleed into one of the best goals of the season to date. Gonzalez took a long ball from Robin Jansson and had an excellent first touch with a header to Torres before drifting ever so slightly towards the sideline and receiving the ball quickly back from Torres. Upon receiving it, he sent in a cross with plenty of pace, which found Ercan Kara, who directed it into the back of the net.
Young players have a tendency to have moments that remind fans and so-called experts alike that they are, in fact, still young and developing, and Gonzalez showed he is not immune to this phenomenon as he tried to take on what seemed like the entire back line instead of making the simple play to a streaking Duncan McGuire. As is the nature of a young player in MLS, one must take the good with the bad.
The NYCFC match highlighted the quality that the front office saw in Gonzalez so many months ago when the club signed him. If Gonzalez is able to continue growing into the game, Orlando may just wind up with a starting winger who will be able to complement its Designated Players. The next step for Gonzalez will be to bump up his ability to land shots on target in threatening positions, but the same could be said for most attacking players on the squad so far, and to continue grow his defensive abilities, as well. But if the positive trajectory continues into the dog days of summer, another piece of the Orlando City puzzle may solve itself.
What do you think of Gaston’s recent run of form? Let us know in the comments below.