Orlando, Fla. – Pedro Ribeiro could be forgiven for being labeled as the reluctant marksman, a lone striker who is happier in midfield or with a forward partner. Because that is largely what he is, despite some significant success as Orlando City’s lone ranger.
In just five starts this season, the big Brazilian has chalked up two goals, one assist, a game-clinching penalty (against D.C. United last Sunday) and forced two own goals that helped his team to precious victories (against Houston and Chicago).
It is quite an array of success for the 6-foot-4 striker, who arrived in Central Florida through last December’s Expansion Draft primarily as a midfielder, albeit who could also play at center back or up front.
Yet the former Philadelphia Union prospect is almost apologetic about his role for Adrian Heath’s surging Lions, who have swarmed up to third place in the Eastern Conference on the back of a five-game unbeaten run.
“No, I didn’t really expect to be here as the starting main striker,” he admitted. “I came in to be pretty much a substitute who could fill in in various spots. That was the reality. Midfield was also supposed to be my main role as well, but it is hard to think you will get a lot of playing time when you have a guy called Kaká around.”
Ribeiro made his first impact as a substitute for the injured
in Orlando’s second MLS outing at Houston, forcing Dynamo keeper
into a costly own goal that proved the game-winner.
From there, he started three games in a row, with a goal and an assist in the 2-2 draw at Montreal – ironically, dovetailing nicely alongside his fellow Brazilian – but then injured his hamstring in the early April loss at home to D.C. United, necessitating an eight-week spell on the sidelines.
Ribeiro's return as an impact sub at home to Columbus at the end of May produced a Goal of the Week candidate and a subsequent starting role, both at Chicago and at home against D.C. United, with a major impact each time.
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“Coach Heath gives me a lot of confidence to play up top,” Ribeiro confirmed. “I can’t say it’s my first choice, and I’m not exactly used to it, but I am getting to like it and I’m happy to fit in anywhere with this team.
“I feel like all 18 guys need to be ready to contribute for any given game, and that’s my mindset. Cyle [Larin] has been doing really well, but other guys have played their part, and it has been a true team effort. If we have 11 guys playing well, we don’t need two guys playing amazing.”
Heath’s team ethic is clearly permeating throughout his squad, but few players out-work Ribeiro either in training or on match-days.
“Pedro has worked incredibly hard to get back from his injury,” Heath said. “He has fully deserved his chance back in the lineup. But with the number of games we have this month, we need everyone to be able to contribute. We need big minutes out of Pedro, and that’s what he’s giving us right now.”