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Syracuse men’s soccer: Orange defender Josh Belluz signs with MLS Next

Belluz was a lynchpin for the 2023 Orange

MLS: Canadian Championship-Vaughan SC at CF Montreal Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Following one season with the Syracuse Orange, defender Josh Belluz has signed with the Denver-based Colorado Rapids 2 of the MLS Next Pro League. The Rapids 2 are the MLS Next Pro Affiliate of MLS side, the Colorado Rapids.

In the 2023 season, Belluz was a key piece for head coach Ian McIntyre’s team as he started all 21 matches and led the team with over 1,800 minutes played. Whilst Belluz spent his graduate year in central New York, the Toronto native also made 51 appearances for Villanova in his first four seasons of a tenured college soccer career.

To earn this move, Belluz had to stand out in more ways than just his six-foot-six frame, instantly making him noticeable in any match. Tall, strong, and surprisingly nimble for his size, Belluz often proved able to use his size and natural talents alone to turn away defenders and win aerial duels at the SU Soccer Stadium.

On top of athletic ability, Belluz is a top-level reader of the game. Often trusted as a playmaker starting from the defensive line, Belluz has the capabilities to read patterns of play and complete long switching passes to relieve pressure or even find space and start attacks. Belluz is composed on the ball even when pressured and can use his long strides and size to protect the ball before threading pinpoint passes to his more progressive teammates in midfield.

Belluz also uses his game-reading ability to arrive at the right places at the right times. As a defensive midfielder or defender, Belluz was often tasked with covering the long out-balls that teams would look to exploit to escape Syracuse’s press. Belluz was excellent at this, almost always arriving proactively to box out defenders and keep the ball in Syracuse's possession. The Syracuse faithful also frequently watched Belluz put out fires in his own defensive third, cutting out dangerous through balls and crosses that the average defender could not reach.

With this proactive mindset, one complaint against Belluz might be his propensity to foul and become agitated with his mistakes. Belluz picked up five yellow cards in 21 games this season, which is not a horrible rate, but one might argue that he was lucky not to pick up a few more.

Many of these tackles came in instances where Belluz left his post to shut down a counter-attack, only to be beaten by nimble and skillful attackers. Belluz’s reactions to being called are often quite negative. These mistakes and subsequent frustrations also led to a few games where Belluz would pick up strings of fouls in short order. If Belluz becomes more disciplined in his tackles and reactions, he could even further improve his game.

Finally, with the breadth and flexibility of Belluz’s skillset, his greatest asset might be positional fluidity. It is clear that ‘Cuse head coach Ian McIntyre did not know exactly where Belluz would play best coming into this season.

At Villanova, Belluz featured mainly as a defensive midfielder, but could feature as a more box-to-box midfielder as well. Early in the Syracuse season, Belluz featured mainly in this defensive midfielder position. He excelled here by showing his mobility which he used to put out fires around the pitch, but also his composure on the ball.

However, later in the season, Belluz featured as a central and outside center-back in a back three, and even as a right center-back in a pairing on rare occasions. In these latter stages of the season, Belluz really started to shine.

With his normal position as the base of the whole team at center back, Belluz was able to scan the pitch and play defense-breaking passes to his more attacking teammates. Additionally, his view of the whole pitch from the back gave Belluz the ability to use his game-reading and proactively step into midfield and win balls to snuff out dangerous opportunities.

Coaches of Belluz’s new side will certainly be content to acquire a player who can play many different positions. The prospect of Belluz switching from position to position in-game could also be an interesting prospect to entertain.

With Belluz’s diverse profile as a six-foot-six athlete, it is not hard to see why the Colorado Rapids viewed him as a tantalizing prospect out of college. After the club took the risk on him, we will have to wait and see if his massive frame and soccer brain can take him to promotion from the MLS Next and onto the big stage of Major League Soccer. With the success of so many other recent ‘Cuse graduates, it certainly does not seem out of the realm of possibility.