Given the MLS’s growing, yet still lower level of prestige in the world of soccer, it is kind of surprising that any big-time signing could go ‘under the radar’, per say, but you could argue that Orlando City picking up Julio Baptista did just that. The aging Brazilian joined the Lions in March, but their was not much pomp and circumstance to match it.
Make no mistake about it, picking up Baptista is going to have a huge impact on Orlando, both now and into the future. With just Cyle Larin as a viable striker option, Orlando was forced to shoe-horn star man Kaka into the role and the attack suffered accordingly. Kaka is too valuable to this Lion attack to put him at the point of the formation. All of the creativity in the build-up is lost without him in the center.
Orlando therefore needed another striker, seeing as how Larin is still very young, there are plenty of competitions to go around, and injuries can always show their ugly face, as they have already.
Enter Julio Baptista. Any time I see his name, I can’t help but sing Johnny Cash’s “I’ve been everywhere” in my head. Baptista is a venerable journeyman who has made stops at Arsenal, Real Madrid, Malaga, Roma, Sevilla and, most recently Cruzeira (in no particular order). He has played with and against some of the best names in the game and that kind of experience is irreplaceable on a brand new team with a young whippersnapper Canadian striker.
Baptista made a huge impact in his first appearance, playing the full 90 despite his advanced age (34). Adrian Heath was even a bit surprised that the veteran was able to do what he did. “I thought he showed a lot of stuff that will help us moving forward. He’s been out for a while, but looked as though he is fit, and I think if we get enough balls to him in the right areas he’s going to be a big piece for us moving forward,” he said.
It’s not just the on-field presence that Orlando should be thankful for, though. Sure, he will provide rotational options in the U.S. Open Cup and for midweek matches. He’s scored 117 goals in his lifetime, so he knows how to find the back of the net. Plus, it’s unlikely that he would be stumped by any defensive scheme, given where he’s been.
But in terms of the future, he provides an excellent resource for young Cyle Larin. Larin is just 20 and pegged to be a fantastic striker going forward. Having a brain to pick like Baptista’s will help him grow to his full potential. The idea of playing him alongside Baptista is even more tantalizing, as Heath utilized against New England.
It may not have been seen as the biggest signing ever, but it’s impact this year may be just that.