ORLANDO, Fla. —It's a week full of thanks for Orlando City.
Sure, you have Thanksgiving on Thursday, when everyone will be stuffing their faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and, well, stuffing. But just like the NFL’s Lions, the Orlando players won't be doing too much of that on Thursday.
They'll be out training in the morning, just like they usually are during game weeks, as they prepare for the biggest game of their season.
Now just because they won't spend the full day celebrating the season, that doesn't mean the players and staff aren't thankful. In fact, the biggest thing the team is grateful for is this Saturday: a chance to advance in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.
"We are very grateful for this opportunity to bring this club and this team in these circumstances to have on Thanksgiving Day this responsibility to be preparing for our match and the playoffs," Head Coach Oscar Pareja said on Wednesday at the Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park. "That's what we aimed for at the beginning. So we're here, we're grateful for this, but at the same time, just seeing how the families use these holidays to get together, and this is something good. It's a good feeling. Now we are obviously going to be with our families, and we're very grateful for many things but very focused on our responsibility to Saturday. There is no other space for any other thoughts."
Wednesday's training didn't feel like the day before a holiday. Just as Pareja talked about, the team was focused and in that working mentality, wanting to make sure the level of the team does not drop after 18 days in between matches.
"I wouldn't say that it's optimal this late in the season to have that long break in an important time of the season like this," defender Robin Jansson said. "It's not optimal, but we're trying to do the best we can. We had some days off, and then, we got together again and started to prepare for this game. So we're doing the best out of this situation, and we're going to be ready on Saturday."
The reason for that long window between matches was the FIFA international break, which saw five of the Lions' players head out of the country to represent their home nation on the world stage. Many of those players just wrapped up their final game of the window on Tuesday, spending time to fly back to Orlando in order to train and prepare for the weekend. It's a tough task for them to keep that momentum, but their coach has full confidence in their abilities.
"We're very happy for them first, being in that international competition and defending their national teams," Pareja said. "They know their duties, and they have no concerns at all. Just what they're going to do on Saturday. They will be fine."
Just as it has all season, the confidence from Pareja and his staff has flowed down to the players. Even with the time away and players away for the last week, they're still fully confident that they'll get the job done this weekend, with the Orlando City faithful's help, of course.
"They keep pushing us, giving us energy, and the way that they support us from the stands is so important," Jansson said. "We still need to have them have our back, and we will try to do our best out there with their support."
Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoff vs Columbus Crew
Our Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoff tickets for our Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup against the Columbus Crew, presented by Publix, on Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET are live!
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.