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Season Review: Michael Orozco Fiscal

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

"ATTACK!!!!!!!!!!!!" (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

When the Union secured a loan deal for to bring the US international Michael Orozco Fiscal to Philadelphia, the move seemed a wise attempt to solidify a center back pairing that could grow and mature along with the franchise. It seemed certain that the 24-year-old Orozco Fiscal had been brought in to anchor the Union defense alongside Union captain Danny Califf. Not only did the California-born center back bring the pedigree of three full seasons playing in Mexico’s Primera with San Luis, he is also on the US National Team radar, having earned a senior cap to go along with seven appearances for the U-20s.

Yet, when the Union walked out of the tunnel in Seattle on Matchday 1, it became obvious that the coaching staff was not as certain as many of its supporters when it came to where Orozco Fiscal should be deployed. Call it overcoaching, call it insanity, but rookie Toni Stahl got the nod in the heart of defense while Orozco Fiscal ran out higher up the field as a holding midfielder, despite the Union’s immense depth at that position. We all know the rest of that story. While the early days of the season saw the Union faithful ruing mistakes and missed opportunities and tearing their hair out in chunks, the defense stuck with it, with Orozco Fiscal playing a huge part in their improvement as his versatility allowed Peter Nowak to use him to plug holes, at times in every position across the Union backline, before earning the move back to the central position where he was originally projected.

2010 statistics

29 games (29 starts). 2,562 minutes played. 2 goals, 0 assists, 14 shots (5 on goal). 36 fouls caused, 18 fouls suffered. 5 yellow cards and 1 red card.

High point

In the final home game of the Union’s inaugural season, Orozco Fiscal tallied a beautiful goal that proved the game-winner against the Energy Drinks of New York.  Having stayed forward following a corner, Orozco Fiscal raced through the middle, beating rookie-of-the-year runner-up Tim Ream to slide home Sebastien Le Toux’s low cross, doubling the Union’s advantage. This passage of play, ending with a tremendous goal against a hated rival, served to end the season on a high for Orozco Fiscal, who had been restored to the heart of the Union backline. In the end, the injury to Juan Diego Gonzalez and the mid-season acquisition of Sheanon Williams paved the way for this move and once it occurred, the pieces fell into place for a defense that grew in confidence as the year drew to a close, putting behind it the early mistakes that plagued the beginning of the campaign.

Low point

The first half of the season. People point to Seitz inconsistency in net, and Danny Califf’s violent outbursts as reasons for the Union’s early seasons struggles, but Orozco Fiscal cannot escape without some of the blame. Were it not for some of his gambling positional mistakes and occasional lapses in focus, the use of Christian Arrieta in central defense and the eventual signing of Gonzalez would not have been necessary. With the threesome of Seitz, Califf and Orozco Fiscal not functioning up to par, it was easiest to relocate the latter, given his ability to play multiple positions.

Strengths

Distribution. Danny Califf’s anointment as the Union’s enforcer frees up Orozco Fiscal to use his technical abilities to work with the midfielders to maintain possession and provide excellent service for the offense as they begin counterattacks. These are the same talents that saw him selected as a midfielder in the Union’s opener and allowed him to slot in at outside back (where he played with San Luis) for much of the season. While too many MLS teams are forced to live with two oafish center backs who clumsily hack clearances out of their own box the Union should revel in possessing a player whose gifts extend so far beyond simple ball-winning.

Aggression. Despite his undersized 5’9″ frame, there is neither fear nor hesitancy anywhere in Orozco Fiscal’s game. This leads him to challenge all attackers, daring them to enter his area with crunching tackles and stout defensive work as well as pressing up the field, loitering around the opposition’s box after corner kicks looking for chances to attack. Central defense is no place for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, as any mistake or goal conceded reflects directly onto the central defensive pairing, regardless of their guilt or involvement in an individual situation. Orozco Fiscal is certainly not shy. While a lesser player may not have recovered from the adversity of the beginning of this season, Orozco Fiscal put in the work at outside fullback, toiling selflessly for the good of the team. When he received the nod to return to the center of defense, he took his opportunity with both hands, declaring himself as a starter for the foreseeable future.

Weaknesses

Aggression is a double-edged sword. While Orozco Fiscal tracks back with aplomb to make critical interventions and big sliding tackles, getting caught up the field due to overly aggressive positioning is not something a coach will want to see from his central defender with any frequency. As the defensive anchor—especially in a system like the Union’s, where manager Peter Nowak takes an all guns blazing approach to attack—the onus falls on the two center backs to hold it all together. As the wing backs sprint forward to join the attack, Orozco Fiscal and Califf are tasked with covering the entirety of the defensive third, marking their own territories while also patrolling the space behind the wingers, vacated as they attack. With time comes experience and Orozco Fiscal needs to improve on his positional awareness, knowing when to make forays forward and when to stay home.

Size.  Plenty of international center backs have overcome a height deficit to have excellent careers, but it is certainly difficult. In 2006, Fabio Cannavaro captained Italy to World Cup glory and won the FIFA World Player of the Year, leading the Italian defense while standing only 5’9″. Lack of height is not an insurmountable obstacle. But in a physical league, as in MLS where teams throw wave after wave of over-sized target strikers at defenses, it will certainly be something to watch as Orozco Fiscal continues to develop. His great speed and quick feet will continue to be his best allies as he battles day in and day out with strikers who own considerable size advantages over the 5’9″ Union man.

Outlook

"We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life." (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

The end of the season was telling for Orozco Fiscal and the Union defense. With Sheanon Williams installed as the right back of the future and the Union’s desire to keep Jordan Harvey on the left, the Union defense finally looks set. And that is a wonderful thing for the Union faithful. For, while there will inevitably be bumps along the road, there is no substitute for consistency when it comes to building a strong defensive unit. Whether that’s enough to give Chris Seitz the confidence to get his act together remains to be seen, but there is no way that the 2011 backline will suffer anywhere near the drama, anxiety and frustration of the 2010 version.

For Orozco Fiscal personally, hopefully the Union can work out a permanent deal with San Luis, announcing their trust in him as his partnership with Danny Califf continues to mature. Despite playing a veteran role with the Union, 24-years-old remains extremely young for a center back, with many players not maturing into the role until they reach their 30s. This bodes well for Orozco Fiscal’s future with the Union. Entering next season having earned his spot, rather than being a projected starter, should see him continue to improve the rich form with which he ended the 2010 campaign. In addition to being a defensive stalwart, his continued development in the Union system gives him the opportunity to pull the strings from defense, spreading the ball around and providing crisp, accurate service, a rare ability that few center backs in MLS possess.

(Cover photo: Paul Rudderow)

One Comment

  1. Great write-up, EPS. I agree with your sentiments and truly believe the Califf/Orozco-Fiscal tandem can be one of the best defensive pairings in the league. And as an aside, on a more personal note, have you left any Spurs logos hidden throughout a coworker’s belongings lately, Eli? 😉 I wonder how Darryl and Joe are doing these days … actually, I don’t care. heh

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