Orlando City notebook: Oscar Pareja pleased with Pato’s progress, Academy developments; update on Sylvester van der Water and more


Photo Courtesy of Orlando City

There’s some high expectations for Orlando City’s newest attacker, Alexandre Pato, according to head coach Oscar Pareja.

Speaking to members of the media on Thursday, Pareja shared some thoughts on the Brazilian forward and gave an outlook on what he expects from the former AC Milan player this upcoming 2021 season

“We have big expectations about what he can help us with during this process,” Pareja said on Pato. “What I have found out these last two or more weeks are desire, generosity with his teammates. I have seen a professional player coming in adjusting to our routines that are not easy. I see a player [who’s] willing to still put his capacity, the technical ability and experience in behalf of the club.”

Orlando signed Pato to a one-year contract via a free transfer from Sao Paulo on Feb. 13.

Pato, 31, has scored twice for the Lions during this preseason camp — the first goal came when he played the second half during a 3-2 loss against New York City FC on March 17. The Brazilian scored again during Wednesday’s 3-1 scrimmage victory against the Philadelphia Union — where he played “probably more than 60” minutes and shown an eagerness to play, according to Pareja.

With Pato slowly regaining full form, Pareja has been left quite pleased with Orlando’s No. 7.

“I see that the person that he is, he loves the game and the way he is adapting, he just creates more optimism, so I’m happy to have him and it’s still a long journey to go, but he’s committed and so are we,” said Pareja on Pato.

Here’s more of what Pareja had to say on Thursday:

Philadelphia Scrimmage Win  

As mentioned above, Orlando defeated Philadelphia 3-1 on Wednesday during a preseason scrimmage.

Pareja told reporters that his lineup featured several starting players from last year’s playoff-clinching team, while also working on similar tactics from 2020.

“What I saw is our thing, trying to get better, understanding that this year we need to improve and be much better in every area,” Pareja told reporters on Wednesday’s result against the Union. “But yesterday again was very challenging, Philadelphia is a phenomenal team in Major League Soccer, and they brought as well many young players that we could see we could play against and Jim Curtin is a coach who is very challenging to the way he competes, so yesterday was a very good exercise and I really, really value a lot, not just the result but the performance yesterday from our players.”

Up next, Orlando takes on the Columbus Crew in another preseason scrimmage behind closed doors on Saturday.

Academy Developments 

With the Orlando City Academy enjoying success with its U-15 and U-17 squads in MLS Next, the latest rollout from the Academy has been the launch of its U-23 squad that’s competing in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) this year. 

All that has reached the point where the Academy has become a relevant arm to the MLS team, according to Pareja. 

“With the Academy, it’s reached an importance of relevance for us during this period,” Pareja said in Spanish. “We don’t want to sign players just to sign them. We want to sign players, like we’ve done, that have the capability to have success. I believe this market in Florida is really good, it’s shown us what it should have.” 

Pareja continued: “I’m really happy here, and I know we may not be the biggest academy in the United States but surely we can compete to be one of the best academies in quality, and we have been behind that goal with Marcelo Neveleff and the [youth] coaches. We have a good U-17 and U-15 squad, and we have an important process with this club and the young players. I’d like to leave in this club that same mark I left at Dallas, which allowed me to have the opportunity to do it, and I’d like to that in Orlando because I feel the youngsters have the capability and the market is really good.” 

The Orlando City Academy 23 squad opened its UPSL season with a 3-1 victory against Deportivo Lake Mary on Wednesday, featuring several players from the team’s U-17 and U-15 squads. 

van der Water update

Dutch winger Sylvester van der Water has still not joined Orlando City preseason camp but is expected to arrive in the coming days, Pareja told reporters. 

“Sylvester is still not here, [and] we hope to have him soon in the coming days,” Pareja said in Spanish. 

The 24-year-old signed with the Lions on Feb. 23, but is currently awaiting his visa paperwork in order to arrive to the United States, according to a club official. 

Once van der Water arrives, he’ll have to complete the league-mandated quarantine of seven days, but could still work on individual workouts before officially joining the team in full training. 

Bring on the Leagues Cup 

For Oscar Pareja, the thought of competing against Liga MX clubs in this summer’s Leagues Cup competition is a challenge he’s willing to welcome. 

“We can compete against anyone in Major League Soccer,” said Pareja. “In this moment is growing that much. We don’t have any hesitation to face any team in Mexico and South America, or hopefully soon in any part of the world and I don’t say that just optimistically and irresponsible, I say it after a year coaching in Mexico.” 

The Lions will kickoff their run the second edition of the Leagues Cup in August at Exploria Stadium against a selected Mexican team. 

Praise for Homegrown Rivera

Recent homegrown signing Wilfredo Rivera received some praise from Oscar Pareja on Thursday. 

The 17-year-old Academy alumni and former Orlando City B player signed a homegrown contract with the Lions on March 22 and is currently with the Puerto Rican men’s national team during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying this week. 

“First time I saw him, he was turning 16 and then coach Marcelo [Neveleff] and the coaches were talking to me about him, and I saw him so small, you know, just young, but so small,” said Pareja. “And then, we invited him to our trainings, and the first thing I saw was such a personality, courage, and braveness and that lefty is very creative, crafty.” 

Pareja said he’s deployed Rivera on the left and right, which has provided him with plenty of possibilities on where to play the homegrown. 

“He has learned through the process that he needs to get stronger, but Wilfredo has a lot of talent,” said Pareja. “We’re proud to sign him. He’s still young. I think he will be small forever, but the quality that he has is tremendous and we’re proud. I hope for him the best.” 

FOX 35 PLUS deal extended 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Orlando City and FOX 35/FOX 35 PLUS (WOFL/WRBW) extended their multi-year local TV partnership.

FOX 35 PLUS will continue to broadcast all of Orlando City’s local games this season. The team also announced the return of play-by-play analyst Evan Weston and color commentator and former City player, Miguel Gallardo

28 of Orlando’s 34 regular-season matches will televise across the FOX networks, including 24 games that will feature on FOX 35 PLUS and four games on FS1

Orlando and WOFL/WRBW first agreed to the local television deal ahead of the 2019 season. 

For more up-to-date stories, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer


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