Orlando City’s surprise run in the MLS is Back Tournament may have come to a disappointing end Tuesday night, as they fell 2-1 in the final to the Portland Timbers, but following the match head coach Oscar Pareja praised his team’s efforts throughout the competition.
The Lions weren’t predicted to make it very far entering the tournament, but when Pareja was asked whether he thinks Orlando has won the respect of the league after making a deep run, the first-year coach of the Lions left that decision up for popular opinion.
“That’s up to the people to decide that,” Pareja said in Spanish. “We have immense respect towards ourselves, towards our supporters, and this project and we hope to see that get even bigger — magnifying as we continue to reach our objectives.”
“Today, we were in a final, we’re sad because we didn’t win it — we could’ve won it,” he added. “We’re going to continue going forward and I hope that respect the opponents, the people, the supporters have, who may have always seen Orlando City as a boys team can now see a team more competitive, because that’s the reality. We’re a competitive team because nobody has given us anything.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, Orlando City wasn’t predicted to even make it past Group A, which the Lions eventually won.
An upset victory over tournament favorites Los Angeles FC in the quarterfinals may have shocked the league, but it’s the team’s aggressive and possessive style of play that became noticeable, along with a strong defensive showing from center back duo Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese making several key saves throughout the tournament.
Nani, who finished the MLS is Back tournament with three goals and three assists, even chimed in on the team’s improvement this year.
“We learned we are a better team at this moment,” said the Orlando City captain. “We improved as a group, as a club, and let’s be honest we must accept that we are not the same team as before and you all know that. You all saw our games, you have seen this final, you see the way we’ve been playing, you see the way every team who plays against us behaves against us, so let’s be honest with our team.”
The Portuguese winger added the last two months during the four-month postponement of the season may have also been a factor to the team’s sudden shift in competition.
“We know we are a team who needs to improve a little bit more, but at this moment I’m so happy to be on this team with this coach, with this staff because we showed that we took these two months to improve and we did it,” said Nani.
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