Orlando City faces a sturdy task on the defensive end when they face off against the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Exploria Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX 35 Plus).
Despite a season of improvement under head coach Oscar Pareja, the Lions’ defending of crosses has been their Achilles heel as of late.
Out of the eight total goals conceded in the six games of Phase 1 of the MLS restart, six of those goals came from balls crossed into the box — five of which were scored by headers from opponents.
For Pareja, who will look to lead Orlando to continue their current unbeaten steak of five games, the subject on defending balls in their defensive area has been a key focus during this week’s training.
“It’s been a topic of our conversations, and it’s been a part of our daily work — to try and get better,” Pareja said in Spanish during Thursday’s weekly media availability via Zoom. “It’s something constant, not only in the games where we’ve conceded, but it’s a constant thing that happens around MLS and around leagues across the world. It’s a form of defending crosses, and we’ve been conscientious in our ability during those moments.”
The Fire (2-6-3, 9 points) will enter Saturday’s game on the heels of a four-game winless streak, but Pareja said he expects Chicago to come prepared trying to exploit Orlando’s defensive order.
“We’ve been working and the lads are convinced it’s something to get better on. Logically, we hope to solve that,” added Pareja. “Other teams prepare by looking at details that can be seen, so we’re aware we have to improve on the way we defend crosses.”
Orlando City (5-2-4, 19 points) currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Centerback Robin Jansson and midfielder Uri Rosell, both did not play for Orlando City last week due to undisclosed knocks. While Jansson has been training this week with the team, Rosell remains questionable heading into Saturday’s game against Chicago.
Left back Joao Moutinho, who’s been out with a groin injury since Aug. 29, will not be available for selection for the Lions this weekend as he continues his rehab, according to Pareja.
“Robin is training normally with the group, Uri is returning slowly to some activity with the trainers and coaches,” said Pareja on the pair. “We expect in the next 48 hours to see how was the progression. Joao is in a good mental side, he’s recovering very fast, but he’s not available yet.”
Meanwhile Brazilian forward Matheus Aiás, who signed with Orlando City last month, has not yet arrived and is still in Spain waiting on his Visa from the U.S. Embassy, according to a club spokesperson.
Once Aiás arrives 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 for training.
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