Orlando City may be at a turning point in its history after an impressive start under Oscar Pareja, but the Lions aren’t planning to underestimate MLS expansion side Nashville SC ahead of Wednesday’s match at Exploria Stadium.
“Being favorites in a game is something that I consider irrelevant,” Pareja said in Spanish during Monday’s weekly media availability. “We weren’t favorites when we won and faced the other teams when we were in the Disney tournament. Today, we could be considered favorites, but we aren’t going to fall into that. We’re going to continue with our identity, play with seriousness, and the responsibility that calls from the game.”
Kickoff for Wednesday’s match is slated for 7:30 p.m., which will be played in front of a limited capacity crowd at Exploria. The game will also be televised locally on FOX 35 Plus.
Both Orlando (2-2-2, 8 points) and Nashville (1-3-1, 4 points) will enter the game coming off respective losses. The Lions fell 3-2 in Fort Lauderdale to Inter Miami on Saturday, while Nashville fell 2-0 to Atlanta United the same day.
While the Lions made a run to the championship in the MLS is Back Tournament earlier this month, Nashville’s first year in MLS hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.
Despite exiting the MLS is Back competition in Disney last month due to of several positive COVID-19 cases within the team, the MLS expansion side have lacked firepower in its attack before and after the season postponement, having only scored two goals in its first five games of the season.
Despite that, an intense game against Nashville is predicted according to Pareja, who also added: “We’re going to implement a strategy so our players feel comfortable in the game.”
Back at home
Wednesday’s game will also mark the first time in nearly five months that Orlando has played at Exploria Stadium.
The Lions opened up the 2020 regular season on Feb. 29 to a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake, before the season halted for almost four months due to the pandemic. They were scheduled to play a home match against the Chicago Fire the week the season was postponed.
For Pareja, speaking on behalf of the team, there’s joy within the club on returning home.
“We’re pleased to be able to play in our stadium,” Pareja said in Spanish. “We’re very happy that people will be able to see us. We’re proud of what’s being built here in this project. We want the three points, [and] we want to continue advancing.”
“The simple act of just competing is very important and grateful because that’s what we’re working for, [what we’re] focused on,” he added. “So it’s terrific to be at the stadium again, to see our game and for the fans to watch us as well.”
The challenging week ahead
Having just played four days prior to their next match, Orlando faces a shorter turnaround this coming week.
With Nashville at home on Wednesday, the Lions will then travel three days later to face Atlanta United in Atlanta on Saturday.
That’s an obstacle which is going to require some sort of plan of action — focusing on Nashville while maintaining a healthy squad ahead of the Atlanta game, according to Pareja.
“Because of the proximity of the games, at this point, it makes us think that in some areas we need to rotate some players,” said Pareja. “We have a plan that is already on the table. We have foreseen already what could happen in that short period of time in terms of flying out and playing 40 hours or three days before.”
Matheus Aiás arrival timeline
Despite signing with Orlando City last week, the timetable for the arrival of Brazilian forward Matheus Aiás remains unclear.
Last Friday, the Lions announced the transfer of the 23-year-old attacker, joining the team on a 2 1/2 year contract with an option for an additional year from English Championship side Watford FC.
On Monday, Pareja was not able to provide exact details on his arrival, but did call for patience on Aiás’ arrival.
“It’s a bit blurry now for two reasons: first, we’re waiting for the league and people to authorize a couple things,” said Pareja. “Second, these times with restrictions that are in the country, it’s not just the league but the restrictions are everywhere. Hopefully, we can overcome that and Matheus can come as soon possible, but I can’t respond precisely. We have to wait.”
It’s worth noting, once Aiás obtains his International Transfer Certificate (ITC) and P-1 visa, he will have to complete 10 days of quarantine mandated by MLS and also receive two negative COVID-19 tests before joining the team in person.
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