Kissimmee, Fla. — And so begins another year of Orlando City soccer in the City Beautiful.
Ten years ago, almost to the day (off by a week and a half) the Lions took the field for their very first MLS preseason out at Sylvan Lake Park in Lake Mary. Obviously, a lot has changed in and around the club since then, but so many things about the first day of preseason remain the same.
Back in 2015, I was just finishing out college, working my way up as an aspiring journalist, just getting my feet wet in the professional game. Showing up to that first day of preseason, talking with the players and coaches about their excitement for their first year in MLS, watching the interactions as all the players met each other for the first time. It was an incredibly fun experience to be around.
So much so that a decade later, I'm still doing it!
With this 2024 Lions squad, the majority of the team have known each other for a while now. One of the benefits of having a standout squad the year prior is keeping the core of the roster intact, making the first day of preseason feel more like everyone's coming back to classes from winter break and less so a first day of school.
"We're excited. Happy to be here again. We can't wait to start a competition," Head Coach Oscar Pareja said at the Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park on Monday. "We already rested enough, the players are very professional and already on their duty, so we're excited and looking forward for the biggest prize for Orlando."
While the majority of players have returned from the strong 2023 roster, there are plenty of new faces that made their first forays into the Orlando Health Training Ground Monday morning.
Standout MLS veteran Nico Lodeiro, who signed just 11 days ago, got his first experience at OHTG and already looking sharp in his first session wearing purple. The three top draftees from the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, Jeorgio Kocevski, Yutaro Tsukada and Filip Mirkovic, also got their first taste of a professional-level training session. All three of them looked eager on the pitch and were able to keep up with the intensity and pace of the session. It's also worth mentioning they were some of the earliest players to arrive at the training grounds. Always important to set a good first impression on your first day, and they did just that.
In fact, Pareja spoke about how excited he was for the four new faces in the squad.
"You know how much the draft excites me and how much Orlando has taken advantage of this process," he said. "So I can't wait to see the boys with the first group and see them competing. I'm very, very optimistic. With Nico, he's going to bring a hierarchy to us. He has won the league already and won a bunch of things, and at this moment, it's something that we can use. And the best part of that is that Nico selected us, among some possibilities that he had; it was not just that we wanted him, but he really wanted us, and that excites me."
That level of excitement Oscar has for the new season and his players has been one of the constant themes for every preseason this club has had. Even with all the changes in players, staff and everything in between, it's always exciting to see what a new season will bring.
Odds and Ends:
- There are still a few players missing from training after the first day, including midfielder Cesar Araujo, who captained Uruguay's U-20 squad in their 4-1 win over Paraguay.
- Duncan McGuire is also away with the U.S. Men's National team, but not very far from the training facility. The Stars and Stripes are spending the next few days just next door in the stadium at the training facility for their January camp. You can read more about that here.
- Dagur Dan Thorhallsson is also away on international duty, currently down in Maimi for a pair of friendlies with Iceland. He started in a 1-0 win over Guatemala this past weekend.
- Martin Ojeda is still in Argentina, according to Oscar Pareja. He is finalizing his visa and should rejoin the team "this week."
- Pareja also mentioned that Orlando City B coach Martín Perelman is assisting the first-team coaching staff with drills through this week.