Orlando City may have gotten their first three points of the season last week, but for head coach Oscar Pareja, Saturday’s match against New York City FC will be considered a true measurement of where the team stands early in the MLS season.
The Lions (1-0-2, 5 points) and the Pigeons kickoff at 6 p.m. at Exploria Stadium with the game being televised nationally on ESPN.
“At this stage, every game is so important to keep building the confidence and to keep adding points. I know it’s early, but our commitment to the competition is to try and get the most points that we can at this stage,” Pareja told reporters on Thursday. “We think New York City will be a great measurement for us. It’s another great rival in our conference that for sure will be fighting high in the standings. We’re excited to play them this weekend.”
It’s the first time both sides meet since the classic playoff match on Nov. 20 last year, which saw the bout between Orlando and New York City go all the way into penalties, eventually seeing the Lions advance, courtesy of some dramatic turn of events that saw starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese being sent off during the shootout and second-string center back Rodrigo Schlegel stepping up to stop a pivotal penalty to steer Orlando onto the next round of the playoffs.
For Pareja, he isn’t expecting anything different when both sides meet again at Exploria.
“The matches against New York have that tendency to be very emotional and how not to remember that one game where we advance into the [Eastern Conference] semi-final against a good rival,” said Pareja. “They have very good players, and we have those memories that we can remember, so it makes it exciting and for sure the games against them are very competitive.”
NYCFC (2-1-0, 6 points) enters the match this weekend after having scored seven goals in their last two matches, including a 5-0 mauling over FC Cincinnati April 24. New York City currently leads the Eastern Conference with eight goals in its first three matches of the season.
Meanwhile, Orlando City have deployed an impressive defensive unit, having only conceded once in their opening three games of the regular season — also turning up their offensive production after a 3-0 victory over Cincinnati last week.
The Lions will continue to be without Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato, who suffered a knee injury during the season opener.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Pato underwent a procedure on his right knee, which will keep him out for 3-6 weeks.
Pareja confirmed that Uri Rosell will not feature on Saturday because of an undisclosed lower-body injury — while David Loera and Joao Moutinho were listed as questionable with lower body injuries during Friday’s MLS injury report.
Jordan Bender loaned to Charlotte
Lions homegrown midfielder Jordan Bender was loaned out on Thursday to USL Championship side Charlotte Independence on a full-season loan with the right of recall.
“Jordan is a young player that has shown us a lot of potential and that we can see a bright future for in our Club,” said Orlando City EVP Luiz Muzzi said in a press release. “We’re sending him to a club and a coaching staff that we know well, one that is close to us and a place where he’ll get valuable game minutes to further his development. This is a situation that works out well for everyone involved and we’ll be eagerly watching Jordan’s progress over this period.”
The 19-year-old will look to get some valuable playing time while on loan, something he only did in five matches last year. Three of them came with Orlando City B in USL League One, while two were with the MLS side.
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