MLS is Back: With knockout round in reach, Orlando City prepares for New York City FC

Arrival to Hotel on 06_25 - Orlando City SC - Swan Hotel_m1216

After Sunday’s latest coronavirus-related complication resulting in another postponed game, pressure and concern continues to mount that the MLS is Back Tournament is edging closer towards full-on disaster.

Despite hiccups in the keeping the bubble safe, Orlando City players and coaches continue to express comfort in the league’s protocols and procedures.

“The group came into the bubble with the mentality that it’s not going to be forever and that it’s not going to be perfect,” head coach Oscar Pareja said on Sunday’s media video conference. “We came with the mentality that there’s some risk, and it’s obvious because the whole planet has it. We choose not to think much about it.”

The team is doing its best to focus on soccer and trying to win the tournament.

After Wednesday’s opening night victory over Inter Miami CF, the Lions are now just a victory shy of advancing to the knockout round out of Group A. Next up on the docket: New York City FC, which is coming off a Game 1 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

“We understand that we’re preparing to play against them with the energy, discipline, and characteristics that we have as a team,” said Pareja on NYCFC. “We recognize that there is a competition; at the same time, when we saw them play against Philadelphia, we recognized some weaknesses too and I did the same on terms of the things that we need to get better and obviously, probably we will have to have more presence in both areas, you know, when we’re defending and attacking just be more active in that part, but as a coach you always see things in every phase of the game, you know, when do you have the bottle when you don’t have it things that need to get better.”

Against Miami, the Lions controlled most of the game throughout the first half of play before conceding the first goal less than three minutes into the second half. After that, the team battled back to tie and eventually take the lead in the final minutes — thanks to a game-winning goal from Nani.

The Lions were able to shut down the expansion side for most of the night, but will face a much tougher challenge on Tuesday when they match up against a more cohesive NYCFC side that scored 63 times in 2019, second to only Los Angeles FC. In the side’s tournament-opening match against Philly, while NYC failed to score in the contest, they dominated possession by 20 points and out-shot the Union 17-8.

On Sunday, NYCFC announced they would likely be without play-making midfield Maxi Moralez for “many weeks” with a quad injury, a tough blow to the Pigeons’ lineup.

“Obviously, they have pacey wingers, good technically, they like to play their full-backs really high up, especially though right back,” said Joao Moutinho, talking about NYCFC’s attacking strengths. “So, that’s something that I’m gonna have to be aware of.”

The weather has also taken center stage in this tournament. Florida is well known for its sweltering summer heat and it played an obvious role in games across the league so far, especially as teams to return to competitive game action for the first time in four months.

“I think everyone was a little bit nervous for their first game in a while, as you said, it’s been four months since we’ve all played an official game,” Moutinho said. “So, yeah, I think that that plays a part, for sure. But I also think that we had a very good preparation, I mean I can’t speak for the other teams, but I definitely felt good throughout the whole game and I felt that we were stronger in that part.”


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