Luca Orellano Finally Breaks Out for FC Cincinnati

As the de facto replacement for Alvaro Barreal, Orellano has taken a little while to get going. FCC is thriving as he steps up.

Luca Orellano wasn’t supposed to play left wingback for FC Cincinnati 2024. Not to begin the season, at least. Alvaro Barreal, the All-Star left wingback, had been linked to move abroad—the likely destination was thought to be Europe—this past offseason, but as the 2024 MLS regular season approached and European transfer windows began closing in earnest Barreal looked like he would suit up in Orange and Blue, at least until the summer. Meanwhile, FCC moved to acquire Orellano, Barreal’s former teammate at Argentine side Vélez Sarsfield, on loan in late February from Brazilian first division club Vasco de Gama.

Luca Orellano scored twice in FC Cincinnati’s 4-3 win in Toronto.

Photograph by Joseph Guzy

FCC appeared to have an enticing wingback pairing entering 2024. Barreal was established not only as one of the league’s top wingbacks, but as one of its top creative talents at any position. Orellano had registered 14 goals and 17 assists in 140 pro appearances in Argentina and Brazil, including starting all 12 matches for Vélez in its run to the semifinals of Copa Libertadores—South America’s preeminent club competition—in 2022.

Unfortunately, the partnership failed to make it to Week 1. On March 1, FC Cincinnati loaned Barreal to Cruzeiro in Brazil’s first division. He was rumored to want out after his European move failed to transpire. The loan deal, which runs through December, reportedly contains a $4 million-plus purchase option, and FCC can terminate the loan if a transfer option surpassing the purchase option can be completed.

Over four seasons and 104 league matches, Barreal tallied 13 goals and 21 assists. Like Orellano, he was originally a winger who was brought to the Queen City by the previous regime. The sweet-kicking lefty blossomed in a wingback role under current head coach Pat Noonan, routinely dissecting defenses thanks to his witty combination of flair and technique and his telepathic partnership with countryman Lucho Acosta.

Orellano was suddenly tasked with filling the creative void left by Barreal, a key tenet of the team’s attacking scheme given Acosta’s tendency to drift to the left side of the field in order to make utmost use of his gifted right foot. Things predictably started a slow for the 24-year-old, who failed to record a goal or assist in his first seven starts, plus an additional 45-minute substitute appearance. And if adjusting to a new league and new country wasn’t hard enough, Orellano’s father passed away in early March, a little more than a week after his loan became official.

Orellano has found his groove over FC Cincinnati’s current seven-match winning streak, with his two-goal, one-assist display on Saturday in Toronto pushing him to six goal contributions during the current winning streak. His first goal, a calmly slotted ball just inside the right post, leveled the match. He nearly had a second score two minutes later, hustling to manufacture a shot that led to Kevin Kelsy’s go-ahead goal. Orellano struck again in the 79th minute to give FCC a 3-2 lead. He earned MLS Player of Matchday 16 honors for his efforts.

“He was certainly, probably, the most impactful player on the field in terms of our chance creation and our goals,” Noonan said of Orellano. “Luca’s comfort level working on that side and then being able to either dribble inside or combine and run off the ball. I thought he did a really good job of that.”

Entering tonight’s home match vs. Nashville, Orellano is second on the team behind Acosta in key passes—a measure of his chance creation for his teammates—and progressive carries, which calculates a player’s ability to maintain possession and advance the ball towards the goal. He’s also third on FCC in goals, assists, and shots on target.

The more secure Orellano feels, the less pressure is on Acosta, who had a ho-hum display against Toronto but still logged an assist on Sergio Santos’ game-winning goal in the 93rd minute. Orellano’s loan deal contains an unspecified purchase option that feels like a cinch for General Manager Chris Albright to make permanent at the conclusion of the season. Orellano is his own player, but the similarities to Barreal are evident, and FCC will hope his ascension continues to match that of the team.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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