MLS is Back Preview: Orlando City ready for toughest test yet vs LAFC

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

With a trip to the MLS is Back semifinals on the line, Orlando City will face their toughest team this season in Los Angeles Football Club on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1 & TUDN).

Orlando is coming off a 1-0 win against the Montreal Impact while LAFC handily beat the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders 4-1 on Monday. This will be a match of solid defense and potent offense when these two teams take the field.

“A special moment for us to advance and have the team in this stage,” head coach Oscar Pareja said on Wednesday. “The players have worked tremendously hard and they have done a great job on just keeping us in the tournament, and with the optimism always just to keep advancing. We have, obviously, a hurdle in every stage, but we will be prepared.”

Orlando, thus far, has yet to face any major injuries to any players, except for Dom Dwyer. The striker left the MLS is Back bubble on Saturday after needing an MRI on his left knee, ending his tournament. Junior Urso, who was forced out of the Lions match against Philadelphia early, is back in training and Oscar Pareja says that the team is, “Just waiting for the right moment to put him in there.” Pareja also noted that every other player on roster is healthy and available for the match.

Consistency has been key for the Lions throughout this tournament. Starting lineups have been extremely consistent, other than making changes due to injury. This has led to the communication and cohesion within the team to steadily increase, which will benefit the Lions against a potent offensive team like LAFC.

“We have confidence in our defensive models and not just Pedro (Gallese) or the defenders, but everybody,” Pareja said. “We are committed offensively and defensively as a group. We understand the challenge every team has, in this case with LA. Obviously they have very good numbers offensively we would like to neutralize. We like to have our ways to hurt them but we’re aware. From Pedro to our forwards is the same trying to be solid in trying to do our games.”

Speaking of Orlando’s opponents, the Black and Gold scored more than any other team in the group stage of the tournament, with 11 goals. In the absence of Carlos Vela, forward Diego Rossi has taken up the slack of scoring, having scored seven goals in just four games, almost half of all the team’s goals scored total.

Formerly one of MLS’s top strikers, Bradley Wright-Phillips, has also found his form, notching three goals in three games in the group stage.

“Against Seattle we started very well, picked the tempo up and really pushed the game. It was a strong effort and hopefully we can build on that as we prepare for Orlando,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said on Wednesday. “Orlando has played very well in this tournament and they’ve made great progress as a team and we just look forward to another really good test.”


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