With just under a month to go until Orlando City‘s sixth MLS campaign kicks off, new head coach Oscar Pareja has started to see the fruits of his labors through training camp, as he attempts to put his stamp on an Orlando side that has yet to make the playoffs in their history.
The Lions just returned from eight days in Cancun, Mexico, where they underwent rigorous three-a-day training sessions on the fields and on the beaches, spending much of their time focusing on building fitness and implementing Pareja’s tactics and philosophies into the team.
“We are in the preseason mode,” Pareja said after his team secured a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday, “The thing that I liked the most is that I saw a team there, with a ball and without it and we’re going to build slowly. It’s normal at this point. We would like many things better, but we are very content with what we’ve seen today,”
In that preseason match, Orlando implemented a new shape with players playing different positions than prior seasons. New arrivals Antônio Carlos and Rodrigo Schlegel played in a three-man backline along with Kamal Miller. Ruan and Benji Michel played essentially as wing-backs while Junior Urso and Uri Rosell played in the midfield. Nani, Dom Dwyer, and Mauricio Pereyra alternated as the front three, with each having free range to switch up top.
The team played a pressing style that forced Montreal to connect quick passes, but also forced them into some critical mistakes. If Pareja expects his team to play that pressing style for 90 minutes each game this season, he needs to make sure his team is fit and able to do so.
“We wanted to see if this team is strong, physically, because that’s our objective now,” Pareja said, “Trying to see if physically we’re responding to camp and what we did in preseason in terms of their fitness and all those things, and I saw that. Probably more than I thought. With the ball, it was better also. We had sequences where we saw more of the idea of the game and the boys were very disciplined with what we want and preparing with this short time.”
Orlando still has four more preseason exhibitions before the real games start on February 29th. The Lions will host the Tampa Bay Rowdies next Wednesday in a closed-door scrimmage, then they’ll travel to Tampa on the weekend to play the University of South Florida.
That following Tuesday, the 18th, Orlando will once again play in Exploria Stadium in a game open to the public as they face KR Reykjavík. The Lions will face one final tune-up as on Friday the 21st, they’ll host the USL Championship‘s San Antonio FC in another closed-door scrimmage.
That will lead up to Orlando’s match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, February 29th, which will kick off the team’s 34-game season.
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