EDITORS NOTE: MLS announced Saturday evening the postponement of Sunday’s Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew match following a Covid-19 positive case.
For Oscar Pareja, the opportunity to extend Orlando City’s record unbeaten streak to 11 games depends if the Lions could also leap over the Columbus Crew higher up the summit of the Eastern Conference standings.
That chance of keeping the undefeated streak alive, though… and edging closer to top of the East falls on when Orlando and Columbus meet Sunday, 7:30 p.m at Exploria stadium.
And for Pareja, this match for the Lions has some significance.
“It’s very important, we have our own plan that visualizes every game that we were given during this phase of the season and we realized if we reach a certain amount of points during this point of the season, we’ll be in a right opportunity to take on Columbus,” Pareja told reporters in Spanish.
“And with New York City FC (on Wednesday), it’s six important points to climb up high up the table,” he added. “We go game by game because the last game had importance and the game before that against [New York Red Bull] in our preview press conference, we said something similar. So it never ends and this upcoming game is the most important and with Columbus, it’s the same. We have three points on the table and an opponent we can overcome.”
For the Lions (8-2-6, 30 points), it’s another short turnaround after Sunday’s game against the Crew (9-3-4, 31 points).
Orlando plays New York City FC (8-6-2, 26 points) on Wednesday — another Eastern Conference match with playoff implications on the line, with regards to finishing as the higher seed and possibly clinching the Supporters’ Shield.
Toronto FC (10-2-4) currently sits atop the East with 34 points, just four points clear from Orlando City, which sits in fourth behind the Crew. Columbus is currently third with 31 points, while the Philadelphia Union (9-3-4, 31 points) sitting in second, holding the goal differential tiebreaker over Columbus.
Only seven games remain for Orlando in the 2020 MLS regular season, with the team having to secure at least nine points from those games to at least clinch a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.
Columbus designated played Lucas Zelarayan is expected to miss Sunday’s crucial match against Orlando. The Argentine attacker is still recovering from a hamstring injury and expected to miss some time, including Sunday’s match against Orlando.
Zelarayan, who joined Columbus ahead of the 2020 season, has recorded five goals and four assists in 11 games with the Crew this year.
Unnamed player tests for Covid
Orlando City also announced on Saturday that an unnamed player tested positive for Covid-19.
The club said in a prepared statement that it was following MLS protocol, the player has been isolated from the team and is asymptomatic, and will be unavailable until that player is medically cleared.
Matheus Aias/Injury update
Matheus Aias, the 23-year-old Brazilian forward who signed with Orlando in August, may soon be medically cleared to finally train with the Lions, according to Pareja.
The first-year Orlando coach shared some optimism on the forward’s status on Friday.
“He’s finalizing all these things and it seems like I needed to go to deeper testing on his physicals and requirements and that’s what we are,” Pareja told reporters. “But it seems like today (Friday), everything will be clear, hopefully, that we can bring you the news that he is totally released to train.”
Pareja added Joao Moutinho (groin) is getting much better but is still expected to miss Sunday’s game against Columbus. Uri Rosell, Ruan and Mauricio Pereyra — all three with undisclosed injuries — are still recovering and are listed as questionable for Orlando’s match Sunday.
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