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City's Attack Finds Contributions from Multiple Figures

April 11, 2019 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Orlando City SC News Release

Orlando City have never been a club lacking for superstars. Nani and Dom Dwyer have both caught fire to begin the 2019 season, combining for five goals and six assists in just six games.

But what the Lions have missed in recent seasons are the complementary pieces. Those role players behind the biggest names who do all the little things that make a team into a playoff contender.

That appears to be changing in 2019. Sacha Kljestan looks revitalized, ranking near the top of the league in completed passes into the final third. Ecuador mainstay Sebas Méndez has been a rock at defensive midfielder. Wingbacks Joao Moutinho and Ruan have given Orlando a dynamic dual threat in the wide areas.

But perhaps no two players have captured the imagination- and the scoresheet- quite like Chris Mueller and Tesho Akindele.

The two have formed a well-oiled partnership in just a few short months together, combining for multiple goals in preseason and creating Orlando City's equalizer in Saturday night's 4-3 win over Colorado:

Both players are effusive in their praise of the other.

"I think what me and Chris have is unique," Akindele said. "He's just such a special player. I just give him the ball and he can dribble three people and score goals."

"[Tesho] is a great player," Mueller said. "He's got a great mind for the game. He finishes just about everything that comes off of his foot."

Talk of their bond has been around since the Orlando City Invitational in February, but the numbers are starting to back up the words. Mueller (1.62) and Akindele (1.43) are currently first and second for Orlando in goals and assists per 90 minutes. Most interestingly, each of their two goals has come in a game where the other also scored.

Mueller has been the talk of Orlando in recent weeks for his stunning impact as a substitute. The second-year player assisted a goal within four minutes of entering last Sunday against DC United, and his goal on Saturday came not even two minutes after his introduction. Orlando City head coach James O'Connor has been thrilled with the 22 year-old's development.

"His understanding of space and how to penetrate those areas, his understanding of transition, about keeping the ball, is definitely improving and definitely getting better," said O'Connor. "The biggest thing for Chris is the coachability factor and making sure that when he's gone on the field, whether it's at the start or whether it's in the game, is that from a technical standpoint he carries out the things that we're speaking [about] and he's done that great."

Akindele had receded from view following an injury that cost him three games, but the former MLS Rookie of the Year roared back into focus against Colorado, scoring in the first half before assisting Mueller's goal with a brilliant touch. Akindele has already equaled his goal total from last season in just 188 minutes of play.

"I would go as far as to say he's probably the most underrated player in MLS," O'Connor said of Akindele. "I really think this boy is an excellent, excellent player...It's not just his ability to score goals, [it's] his brain, his work ethic. I think there are numerous things that we look at and we've been really, really pleased with Tesho."

Akindele seems overjoyed to be in a system that makes the best use of his talents, and he's enjoyed developing relationships not just with Mueller, but with other teammates as well. "We have players who complement each other here," he said. "I like to get in behind, maybe Dom likes to battle more with defenders, so I think we have a good thing, or maybe Sacha and Chris like to come in for the ball. So I think we have a lot of players who complement each other's strengths."

This much is certain- Orlando City will need contributions from all to achieve their goal this season. So far, so good.

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