Rodrigo Schlegel Has Earned the Right to Continue Starting

Even with Antonio Carlos healthy again, Rodrigo Schlegel’s performances have earned him the right to stay in the starting lineup.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

There was an understandable amount of angst and hand-wringing after Antonio Carlos suffered another leg injury back in August, especially after it was determined that he’d be spending extended time on the sidelines. It was the second leg injury of the 2023 campaign for one half of Orlando City’s starting center back pairing, and it came at a time when the Lions needed to keep picking up wins in order to maintain its place in a crowded Eastern Conference.

Lions fans know that Rodrigo Schlegel, the next man up, is one of the better backup center back options in the league, so by no means was the sky falling. That being said, Rodrigo has had a penchant for getting pulled out of position at times, and Carlos and Robin Jansson are one of the best center back duos in Major League Soccer. Schlegel has stepped up in a big way though, and he’s deserved to continue starting despite Carlos being healthy again.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t had some shaky games, and the 1-1 draw against Charlotte FC and 2-0 loss to NYCFC weren’t the best performances he’s ever had in a purple shirt. For the most part though, he’s looked more assured and has played better as he’s racked up more game time. There’s something to be said for building up match sharpness, and for my money that’s been the case with Schlegel.

He also stepped up his performances down the stretch of the regular season and has continued that into OCSC’s postseason matches. During the 3-0 win over Montreal he had a tackle, a block, four clearances, drew a foul, completed a dribble and passed with 87% accuracy. He turned in a similarly strong performance in the second regular-season match against Nashville SC, as he racked up three blocks, three clearances, a tackle, and interception while passing with 88% accuracy.

Those games were just a teaser of what he’s capable of though, as he dropped a worldie of a performance in the Lions’ away playoff game against Nashville. Rodrigo tallied a tackle, an interception, a whopping 11 clearances, drew two fouls, and connected on a long ball. His 41% passing accuracy was pretty ugly, but it came in a game where Orlando took the lead early and spent large stretches of the rest of it simply repelling danger from the box. He also made an absolute nuisance of himself to the opposition, constantly getting under the skin of the guys wearing yellow, and doing little things to keep them off balance and out of rhythm.

The question of who Oscar Pareja would start once Carlos was fit again was an interesting and not entirely straightforward one. There are good arguments to be made for both options, and I wasn’t sure which way he would go. On the one hand, Carlos and Jansson have several seasons worth of chemistry built up, and when they’re on and clicking there aren’t many MLS center back pairings I’d take over them. Logic says that you want your best XI on the field when you get into the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and that would mean starting Carlos.

The other side of the coin says that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Orlando has given up less than a goal per game with Rodri stepping in to start since the return from Leagues Cup, and the Lions have pitched back-to-back shutouts when its mattered most. He hasn’t given Pareja any reasons to bench him, he’s match fit and not lacking any match sharpness, and those things matter in games where the pressure is ratcheted up to 11.

At the end of the day, I think keeping him in the starting XI is the right decision. He’s been playing well, the defense and team as a whole have been playing well, and the stats back that up. Sometimes it’s best to just not mess with a good thing. Here’s hoping that good thing continues for three more games. Vamos Orlando!


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