With Atlanta United in the midst of a five-game winless run along with a quiet offense that’s produced only two goals during that stretch, and playoff aspirations slowly fading away, Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja expects a sense of urgency from the visitors when both teams clash Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Exploria Stadium.
“I think Atlanta has some urgency,” Pareja told reporters on Monday. “They have a few games now to see if they qualify for playoffs, and I think that urgency will obviously create some pressure and then we will be ready for that game too. It’s a way for us to just keep the competitiveness on all these matches that means a lot for both teams.”
“For us also because we are pursuing now different interest in qualifying in the first four at least or why not just keep fighting for the first one.”
For the Lions (8-3-8, 32 points), three of their last four games of the regular season are against teams that are vying for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
With 12th-place Atlanta on Wednesday, Orlando faces ninth-place Montreal Impact on Sunday before rounding up the following two games against the Columbus Crew on Nov. 4 and eighth-place Nashville SC on Nov. 8.
The top 10 teams in the East qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs this year.
But there’s also a sense of urgency for Orlando to finish as a higher seed in their conference, according to Pareja, which potentially could solidify a home playoff match.
“It doesn’t change much cause I would like to have in every game urgency too,” said Pareja. “The thing is sometimes it’s very difficult to balance that, and you have to understand that in our case, our group for example, has been for months being in a very good level, and we want to make sure that at this point of the season we can keep it. And it’s part of that urgency or the need of the other teams we don’t pay attention too much we just keep going and trying to add points and win games.”
After Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Inter Miami snapped Orlando’s 12-game unbeaten streak, the Lions are now winless in their last four games with the last win coming on Oct. 3 during a 3-1 victory against the New York Red Bulls.
A return to winning ways and balancing the health of the players is a point of focus during the final two weeks of the regular season, says Pareja.
“The desire to win is always going to be the same,” Pareja said in Spanish. “At this moment, winning a game would be good for us because we’re four games away from the start of the playoffs and to have that feeling of winning is much better than tying or losing.”
“What I don’t want is to create is desperation because the team has been good,” he added. “Right now, what we’re thinking is for the group to be healthy and the players returning from injury to stay healthy, and we want to arrive to the playoffs with a good energy because it’s been nonstop for four months.”
Mauricio Pereyra (undisclosed injury) is training with the team already.
Joao Moutinho (groin) is still expected to miss this week of games. While Uri Rosell (undisclosed injury) returned to training last week and is currently doing collective training this week, according to Pareja.
Pareja said he hopes he’ll have Pereyra and Rosell available for either Wednesday’s game or Sunday’s game against Montreal.
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