Programming note: This summer in this space, we’ll take a look at a different American player each week instead of doing some sort of update on multiple Yanks abroad. This will be an opportunity to delve into some players we don’t normally feature in this space and evaluate their chances with the USMNT, their future prospects, other important things to note with them, or any combination of the three.
Club: Club Tijuana (Liga MX)
Following DeAndre Yedlin’s red card in the United States’ 1-0 win over Paraguay on Saturday, the door is open for someone to move into his right back role for the team’s upcoming Copa America Centenario quarterfinal contest with Ecuador. In all likelihood, it’ll be Michael Orozco walking through that open door and into Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup. Given the success he’s had in a USMNT shirt, the 30-year-old Orozco is as solid an option to step in during a big tournament as an international team could ask for.
While it was an inauspicious debut, Orozco would quickly become a stalwart for San Luis, making 74 appearances for the club over his first four seasons as a professional. During the 2010 campaign, he was loaned to the Philadelphia Union and scored twice in 30 games for the MLS side, but they opted not to extend the loan, and he was sent back to San Luis after the season.
He would spend the next year-and-a-half with San Luis before a loan to Puebla for the 2013 Clausura campaign, after which San Luis moved to the town of Tuxtla Gutiérrez and was rebranded as Chiapas F.C. Orozco was immediately loaned back to Puebla, where he spent the next two campaigns and made 57 appearances, scoring once. Prior to the 2015-16 season, he left Chiapas permanently, signing for Tijuana, for whom he appeared 18 times over the course of a difficult campaign.
His club career hasn’t always been terrific, but Orozco has shined when he’s been called upon by the United State men’s national team. Early in his professional career, he sparkled for the U-23 side, helping the Americans qualify for the Beijing Olympics and starting all three fixtures at the tournament, although he saw a red card early in the final game of the group stage. He made his first appearance for the senior side in a World Cup Qualification contest with Trinidad and Tobago later that year.
It would be a long wait for Orozco to make another,
He returned with a vengeance in 2013, though, making six appearances — four of which came during the Gold Cup, which the United States won — and scoring twice, once in the Gold Cup and once in Panama during a World Cup qualifier. Orozco would play just twice for the national team in 2014 before returning to the fold seven times in 2015.
This year, he’s once again been a key cog for Klinsmann. He scored the equalizer in the side’s first game of the season, an eventual 3-2 win over Iceland, and appeared three more times for the national team in the run up to the Copa America. He hadn’t made his debut in the competition until Yedlin’s sending off early in the second half Saturday, but Orozco was the next man up, replacing Clint Dempsey for the final 40 minutes of the match and helping the Americans see out the 1-0 win that earned the USMNT a spot in the quarterfinals.
If Orozco is the man selected in Yedlin’s place for the quarterfinal matchup with Ecuador, he’ll have a huge opportunity — and a huge test. Swansea City’s speedy winger Jefferson Montero roams the left wing for Ecuador, and he gave Yedlin — known for his pace — absolute fits in a Copa warmup match on May 25. That day, John Brooks and Steve Birnbaum patrolled the center of the U.S. defense and led the side to a 1-0 win, and there’s the possibility that Klinsmann could elect to go with that pairing again and shift Geoff Cameron out to right back, where he’s had plenty of minutes with Stoke City over the past few seasons.
However, if the way Klinsmann approached things Saturday is an indication, Orozco will likely be the choice, and if he is, he’ll be on center stage Thursday in Seattle. Montero is Ecuador’s most dynamic athlete and will pose a huge threat to the United States every time he touches the ball. Orozco will have to be at his absolute best for the Americans to slow down a dangerous attack, and if he’s able to help in that regard, his contributions won’t go unnoticed.