Orlando City

Orlando City Signs Midfielder Wilder Cartagena through 2025

The Peruvian international’s loan turns into a contract through the 2025 season to stay with the Lions.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Wilder Cartagena’s loan is over. But instead of returning to Al-Ittihad Kalba SC in the United Arab Emirates, he’s staying with Orlando City. The Lions secured the Peruvian international midfielder’s services today on a guaranteed contract through the 2025 season.

“Wilder stepped up a lot for us in the last couple years, bringing a veteran experience to our midfield that added a lot of strength and set us up for success last season,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “Bringing him back to Orlando after his loan expired was a key part of our plans next for next season and beyond and we’re happy to be able to get him back here and locked in with us.”

The 29-year-old was an integral part of Orlando City’s defense, as he and Cesar Araujo formed a double pivot that clamped down like a vise on opposing teams’ attacking midfielders and wingers throughout the 2023 season, helping the Lions achieve their highest finish since joining Major League Soccer.

Cartagena joined Orlando City on loan for the remainder of the 2022 season on Aug. 2 of last year, with an option to extend the loan through 2023. The veteran provided needed depth behind Cesar Araujo after Sebas Mendez was traded to LAFC a few weeks prior. Cartagena worked his way into the starting lineup in 2023 after Junior Urso departed, working with Araujo in Oscar Pareja’s 4-2-3-1 formation as a potent double pivot. He was so good at his role and had such good chemistry with Araujo that he became one of the club’s most valuable players this season and the Lions appropriately extended that loan through the end of this past season. Now the move is permanent.

In less than a season and a half, Cartagena has racked up 32 appearances in the MLS regular season with Orlando City (27 starts), logging 2,240 minutes. He has a goal and two assists in the regular season on 17 shots (five on target), passing at an 87.5% success rate with 17 key passes. He has also appeared in three MLS playoff matches (all starts), contributing a goal on three total shots (one on target). His goal was a cannon shot that led Orlando City to a 1-0 win over Nashville SC on Oct. 30 at Exploria Stadium. That goal set the tone and the Lions swept Nashville in their best-of-three matchup.

But where Cartagena truly shines is defensively. His 48% success rate on duels and 13.7% header duels rate are not eye-popping numbers by any means, but he reads the play well and does whatever is needed, whether it’s intercepting a pass, preventing one, or taking a key foul off the ball to prevent an attack from even getting started. Cartagena is a crafty players and can often see danger coming before others around him. He can also be a frustrating and physical player to go up against and can wear opponents down over the course of 90 minutes. He and Araujo together are relentless and they’re good at forcing plays into the corners, where it’s harder to set up a look at goal.

What It Means for Orlando City

The obvious thing it means is that the club doesn’t have to go out and find a capable replacement for Cartagena. By securing the Peruvian’s services for the next two years, the Lions keep an All-Star caliber player (if defensive midfielders were actually a thing in all-star games) at a key position and solidify the team’s starting defensive midfield. It’s not a hot take to say that Cartagena and Araujo in 2023 formed Orlando’s best defensive midfield pairing in the club’s MLS history, and that will now continue into the future, with veteran Felipe able to spell either with a substitute appearance or spot start here and there. Even without Junior Urso, the Orlando City central midfield is in great shape.

The interesting wording of Orlando City’s press release is that there is no use of the word “transfer,” which would perhaps indicate a fee was paid to Al-Ittihad Kalba. The release also doesn’t include any mention of Targeted Allocation Money. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out what the financial layout is for Cartagena’s services in 2024, but if he and Araujo can continue to grow and develop their partnership, it’ll make for more quiet nights for Pedro Gallese and the Lions’ back line.


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