With less than two weeks to go until Orlando City kicks off the 2020 Major League Soccer season against Real Salt Lake on Feb. 29, expectations within the club are beginning to mount, as the Lions believe they have a group capable of finally competing in the MLS Cup Playoffs this fall.
Luiz Muzzi, Orlando’s Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations heading into his second season with the club, has been watching everything up close and personal this preseason and thinks the Lions have something special brewing.
“We’re very excited, it’s a new season, a new coaching staff, a few changes with new players. I think if you had a chance to see the players with the first game and [the closed-door scrimmage against the Tampa Bay Rowdies], it looks very exciting,” Muzzi said at Thursday’s Media Day press conference. “We are thrilled to have the players that we have — some new faces and some old faces that are not here anymore. I think we’re ready for a great season.”
After starting the preseason in Orlando, the Lions traveled to Mexico for a couple of weeks to continue their preparations, a trip that Muzzi said left him with a great feeling of what’s to come this season.
“There’s a lot of work — really, a lot of work — we did three-a-days in Mexico; you see guys doing seven o’clock, doing lunch-time workouts on the bench, and then five o’clock training sessions,” he noted. “All the guys have great energy, great vibe, everybody’s working hard. So, very excited for the season. I think that we’ve got great things ahead. I can’t wait to start playing the real matches.”
In Mexico, the team had a chance to get away from any distractions at home, isolate, and focus on soccer and soccer only. It also let the team connect, bond, and grow together in the extended time spent with each other. With so many new faces in camp this season, that can often lead to its own challenges in players trying to acclimate, but Muzzi’s comments set aside any of those concerns.
“I think they’re gelling overall. Not only the new guys and the old guys, but they’re all doing great. I think the new guys are gelling with each other, and they’re also getting along with the old guys — guys who were here before,” Muzzi said. “I think that overall you look at the group and see a bunch of guys that are working really hard overall, not complaining, and like I said they were exposed to a lot of hard, hard work. You see the guys are happy, and they get to dinner at eight o’clock in Mexico after having three sessions and they’re still singing and still making jokes and all that. I think it’s been great, everybody’s getting along well and I hope that can translate onto the field when we’re playing.”
Orlando City went into 2019 with similar prospects, with the team finding itself to be a very close-knit group after the preseason, but things fell apart during the later stages of the summer and the Lions ultimately missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season. That brought many changes to the club, including at the head coach position with Oscar Pareja coming back to MLS from Mexico to be the club’s fourth head coach in six seasons.
Nearly half of the team’s roster is also new heading into the year, and while that can often mean the team is in a “re-build”, Muzzi believes that Orlando City is actually in a better spot now than where things finished last season.
“With Oscar and his coaching staff and everybody here, I think that we’re in a better position to get a lot of things done,” he said. “But it’s a process, It’s not overnight. There were lots of things that I saw when I came in, there was a plan, but we just couldn’t do it right away. There’s things still kind of in the works, and I think that we’re going to see in the long run that hopefully, those things will be successful. That’s what we all want. That’s what we’re all working for, but I think we’re in a much better position today.”
For more soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer