Orlando City

Hunting Journal | A new season


ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City SC is coming off its best season ever.

Heading into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Lions got their most-ever wins, and most-ever points, tied their most-ever goals scored and finished second overall in the Major League Soccer standings.

While that's successful in its own right and should be celebrated, for now, in the immortal words of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, "it doesn't matter."

That's the general sentiment that Lions General Manager and EVP of Soccer Operations Luis Muzzi shared in the team press conference Thursday afternoon.

"It's a new season now," he said. "It's playoff season. It starts on Monday. I mean, it's started already. We've been thinking about this for a while. Everything that we achieved in the regular season is great, but we are on a mission now, which is winning MLS Cup, and that starts on Monday."

That was how the roughly half-an-hour presser opened, where Muzzi and head coach Oscar Pareja fielded questions from media about various topics from the regular season. From making the playoffs four years in a row, to how it feels hosting the first-round match, and even touching on what it would mean to win another trophy for the City Beautiful.

One of the big talking points was the new first-round format: a best-of-three series, in which each game will have a decided winner. There's no extra time if it ends in a draw, just straight to a shootout to decide the victor.

“It tries to bring something new,” Muzzi said. “It’s an exciting proposition from the league that we have something different."

“We like the people to understand that format,” Pareja said. “There isn’t extra time, and you go straight to penalties, so there should be a winner every time we play. So, that creates different scenarios and strategies that coaches may have for the game. We have to be ourselves and not overthink too much. It’s easy in sports to predict something, but once the ball is moving, it’s unpredictable."

From that press conference, all of the media in attendance were able to have breakout interviews with a few of the Lions players: rookie sensation Duncan McGuire, Designated Player Facundo Torres and captain Mauricio Pereyra.

They all made their rounds with the local media before I got the chance to sit down with them, so I tried to keep my questions for them short, even joking with Facu about how much fun he had doing seven different interviews in the span of an hour.

Just like at training during the week, the mood was joyful talking to the trio, but each one's perspective around the team heading into that Monday playoff match shared a common theme: togetherness.

"Everyone's a good guy, everyone you're buddies with, you can talk to anyone, you can joke around with anyone," McGuire said to OrlandoCitySC.com. "It's a really tight group of guys here, and that definitely just helps on the field as well. That togetherness off the field translates to being on the field as well. You want to work hard for that guy that you're friends with, and you want to work hard for the team as one, so it definitely means a lot having a tight group like that."

"There is something there inside of the dressing room to say we can beat any team - we are better than many teams, but we have to show that in the field," Pereyra said. "So now, it's about ambition. It's about willingness. It's about the desire to be a champion."

The tight-group mentality and desire for a trophy have been there since day one of this season. I remember talking to Muzzi in the early months of 2023 about his expectations, especially after last year's U.S. Open Cup title.

"We want more," he said.

Once you have a taste of that title-winning feeling, it becomes addicting. The players from last year have helped translate that desire to all the new additions, and now, together, they hope to write a new chapter in the story of an already successful 2023 campaign.

2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs | First Round, Game 2

2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs | First Round, Game 2

2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs | First Round, Game 2

Don't miss Kickoff -60, airing one hour before Orlando City's match, exclusively on the LionNation App. Join host Gabrielle Amado and Orlando City’s English-language radio talents Evan Weston and Paul Shaw as they break down the upcoming match, with special guests appearing regularly throughout the season.

Fans can download the LionNation App at the link here.