Orlando City’s second Major League Soccer season is a little over a week away. But there’s still one more opportunity for Lions head coach Adrian Heath and his team to get one last rehearsal in before the games start to count; in fact, that game will be in front of an Orlando Citrus Bowl crowd on Saturday when the team takes on Brazilian side Esporte Clube Bahia.
“One thing I do know is that they are some talented footballers because, as we’ve always said, if anyone can produce footballers, it’s Brazil,” Heath said. “We’re expecting a really good game tomorrow. We’ve had four or five games against Brazilian opposition — they’ve all been very tight, and I don’t think it’ll be any different tomorrow.
“It’ll be good to get back in the Citrus Bowl with all the supporters behind us,” Heath added. “And for me, it’s like the start of it tomorrow because we want to treat the game as if it’s the first game of the season tomorrow.”
For players, though, the final preseason match is very close to the real thing. Being in the Citrus Bowl only adds to the gravitas of the final friendly — which, for left backs Luke Boden and Brek Shea, will be anything but amicable.
“There’s no real such thing as a friendly,” Boden said. “Obviously, it’s the last game before the season kicks off for real, so I think it’s a good chance to get our little bits and pieces down that can hopefully get us a win on the first game of the season.”
Said Shea on Saturday’s friendly: “I think there isn’t really any friendlies in this game. Every game you’re practicing something, you’re working on something, you’re getting ready for something. I’m not going to say it’s our last chance to get ready for the season, so it’s a big game.”
Apart from the match itself, new starting goalkeeper Joe Bendik is thinking about the logistics, as he prepares to step foot into the Citrus Bowl for the first time in the purple kit.
“Obviously, we want to work on a couple things, but for me, take in the whole atmosphere. You know, learning what parking lot I’m going into, learn the exact way into the locker room, and really take everything in — which way the sun’s coming, the wind — all those kinds of things, the little, very small details that do make a big difference.”
And as the new goalie, Bendik is anxious for the opportunity to prove himself to the fans of the City Beautiful.
“You have to earn the respect of your teammates, earn the respect of your coaches, and you have to earn the respect of the fans,” the former Toronto FC goalie said. “Right here, from what I’ve seen in supporting, the supporters are unbelievable. I love the two different supporting groups behind the goal, and there’s deep roots with the USL team.”
Some players are more openly excited about Saturday’s friendly than others; defender Aurélien Collin is one of those players.
“Training is part of the job. I don’t like training, I want games. I want to play, I want to play, I want to play. So I can’t wait. Friendly is good. Game is game, where, of course, a league game is much better, but game is game, but it’s better than training. I can’t wait. Tomorrow night [will] be a good experience too.”
Kickoff against Esporte Clube Bahia is at 7:30 p.m.
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