There was little rest for Orlando City after their thrilling run to the final of the MLS is Back Tournament. Just a week and a half later, the Lions are right back to it, facing new rivals Inter Miami CF on Saturday night (8 pm EST, Fox 35 Plus).
“The first two days after the tournament, the final, the players came back to their homes and we rested,” explained head coach Oscar Pareja at his weekly press conference. “We let them just stay with their families and try to flush the Final, and after that the boys came back to the training ground, and I saw them as if it was the first day of preseason.”
It was a very short “preseason” for Orlando City, especially compared to Inter Miami, who bowed out of the tournament in the group stage and will have gone more than a month without playing a competitive match.
Miami will be without French national team midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who was announced as their newest signing last week but still requires his visa and time in the MLS coronavirus protocol, but the expansion side still feature Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro in attack and have added former Atlanta United defender and MLS All-Star Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Despite not garnering a point in their first five matches, Pareja says he sees an improving side in South Florida.
“It is a team who has been evolving for sure,” Pareja said. “It’s a new franchise with a new coach, and what we learned from the tournament is that they have players with a lot of intensity...We tried to read, not just in the game that we played against them, but in the other games too, trying to see if there are some similarities in their models or formations so we can take advantage of some stuff, or how we can prevent them as well to hurt our systems.”
Orlando, meanwhile, has continuity and momentum coming off last month’s successful tournament run. Pareja wants to make sure his team continues the progress they made at Walt Disney World, specifically in the way the Lions approached games with a focus on possession and playing through their opponents.
“[I want] to keep seeing a team that has the initiative in the games,” said Pareja. “Even in the final against a rival that had a lot of work with the same coach and players and has been in finals before and overall has been very successful, the initiative of the game all the time was from Orlando, and I would like to carry that from the tournament.
“The players understand that this is the idea, and every time I come to a press conference I talk about being the protagonists...The respect for the ball, the respect for the game and the way we play. In spite of the good and bad results, we would like this franchise, Orlando City, to be recognized as a franchise that plays good soccer and we would like to carry that on."