Heading into last Saturday’s game against FC Cincinnati, Oscar Pareja acknowledged there was a sense of urgency at the task at hand for Orlando City.
The first, getting the goal production up and going after a slow start. The second, securing that first victory of the season after back-to-back draws to open up the 2021 campaign.
Both objectives were accomplished and the Orlando City coach was left quite pleased with his team’s performance after a 3-0 win against Cincinnati at Exploria Stadium.
“There was an urgency to win at home in front of our fans. There was an urgency to score goals as well,” Pareja told reporters in Spanish after the game. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy because Cincinnati has a structure where they have a high possession of the ball and you have to be focused at all times.”
Saturday’s victory came in a reminiscent way for the Lions. It took until the third game of the season to get the first win — a lot similar to 2020 that saw Orlando first complete that feat.
But the victory also kept Orlando City unbeaten to start the year and for Pareja, that’s left his squad feeling accomplished after enabling on that sense of urgency they were seeking.
“We’re satisfied for the game, for the goals, for maintaining a solid defense. We’ll keep building, it’s a long season, and today to climb it’s important for the team,” he added.
Junior Urso, who scored Orlando’s third goal on Saturday, said Pareja told his players shortly after last week’s 1-1 draw at Kansas City about about how important it was to capitalize on scoring chances after just scoring once in Orlando’s first two matches.
“We talked about that last game, we say when we play against Cincinnati, they have to pay the bill,” Junior Urso said. “So, of course we respect all teams in the league, but that’s the football, that’s the soccer, so we talked about that. Today we had to win, so today Cincinnati paid the bill. We played well, we scored the goals more than once — that’s important too. So I think today Oscar, he’s happy, I think.”
The perfect balance
The Lions enjoyed a slew of positives following Saturday’s victory.
Scoring three goals in a match that saw Orlando produce 23 shots with five of them on target, as well as putting on a solid defensive performance which saw the Lions earn their second shutout in three games.
It’s an equilibrium coaches seek, according to Pareja. Something that has a positive impact when all falls according to the plan.
“I think it’s a balance at the end. This is something that we preach a lot among the boys,” said Pareja. “We can be a solid team that keeps the clean sheets and keep us alive in the games all the time now we will score. I think if we keep getting that better and those numbers, we will fight for great things.”
Pareja continued: “At the same time, the joy of the game are the goals, and the fans come to the stadium to see goals, but we’re satisfied when we have that balance, so we score goals, we have as well a solid performance defensively, and the last few games I think that the boys are playing very, very well in that end.”
The return of Pereyra and Moutinho
Two Orlando City regulars returned to the pitch on Saturday for the Lions.
Mauricio Pereyra made his season debut, starting and playing 60 minutes after missing the first two games of the season because of suspension. But Pareja also confirmed that Pereyra was dealing with a recent undisclosed injury that kept him away from the team’s training sessions during that two-game absence.
“It’s beautiful for us to have Mauricio back,” Pareja said in Spanish. “He came with the suspension, but he also came back with a knock that separated him from the training. We’re going to keep moving because he’s an important player for us.”
Pereyra finished with 52 touches of the ball with 41 passes completed during his hour of play.
João Moutinho also made a return after long absence due to injury. The Portuguese left back played the final five minutes of Saturday’s game against Cincinnati. And for Pareja, seeing Moutinho make his long awaited return was pleasing to see.
“For me personally, the return of João gives me tremendous happiness,” said Pareja. “It took a lot of time the recovery because he’s made such great efforts… he means a lot to the team. So for me, João seeing him on the field brings me tremendous joy and for his teammates as well and without a doubt, for João as well.”
FC Cincinnati did not produce any shots on target on Saturday and for Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, that was good enough to earn his second clean sheet in three games.
But check out this display of stretching abilities to deny Cincy a chance to get on the score board — the opportunity was flagged as offside but still, quite impressing to see Gallese not only play until the whistle but as well stretch those arms with full effort to deny the chance.
The Orlando City captain’s goal on Saturday was quite reminiscent to his goal against the New England Revolution in 2019.
The club’s content team made sure to send out this road down memory lane comparing both goals from two years ago to now… and well, the resemblance is quite there.
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