KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Saturday's match for Orlando City against Atlanta United may have been a turning point for the team.
It's no secret that the Lions have struggled to find a rhythm so far this season, with a myriad of inconsistent results thus far. But for the first 80 minutes of their 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium, the team looked fluid, connected, and cohesive; the dominant team on the night.
Unfortunately for the Lions, for the third time this season, they allowed a game-tying goal in the 80th minute or later. It was a gut punch for the team that, for the majority of the game, was the more likely to come out on top.
But as Lions midfielder Wilder Cartagena said following the game last week: "All the work, all the great plays that we had, and we come away with one point and not three, but that's football."
Now Orlando hope to take that feeling of disappointment and funnel it into their next match on Saturday: the New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m. kickoff | TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV - free match).
Pride in our City
Orlando City is set celebrate those in the vibrant and strong LGBTQ+ community of Orlando, recognizing the seven-year remembrance of the 49 Angels of the Pulse shooting.
"I tell the boys had a very good game, and they know," head coach Oscar Pareja said before training at Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park on Tuesday. "I think we're going in a good direction and performing much better. Getting close to what we want to see. We need to complete a game obviously and that's the frustration that we carry, not being able to get three points at home in front of our fans.
"We're fighting, we're working, and the boys are showing good character."
It's that full 90-minute performance that has eluded the Lions this season. Saturday's match against Atlanta was the closest they had come to it, but in the end, the team is still searching for answers.
Captain Mauricio Pereyra, who is now in Year 5 with Orlando, feels that the team is trending in the right direction, but having the belief that they are making strides and making the correct changes from game to game.
"It's the belief in the work that we are doing, because nothing is changed from this last game or even in Miami," he said. "If we compare with the other games, I mean, it's the same team with the same players and the same quality. The only thing that changed I think, is the mentality and the mindset that we had, that we believe that the work that we're doing is correct. ... Consistency is what we need during the tournament, we see more times during the game against Atlanta. But we have to do it in 90 minutes if you want to get results."
As the Lions now look to this weekend's match against the Red Bulls, it will be the second time the two teams match up this year, the first game coming all the way back in February, when Facundo Torres scored the game-winning penalty on opening day.
There's been changes from both teams since then, more so for New York. The club parted ways with their previous head coach Gerhard Struber early last month and named Troy Lesesne their new man in charge the rest of the season. Despite that change in leadership, Pareja is still preparing for a typical Red Bulls-style match on the weekend.
"There's some sequences that change, there's some attitudes there tends to be more present and it's less with the personnel in the field," Pareja said, "So what we're doing is analyzing what has changed since then, and they play in the middle of the week as well. So we'll see, but certainly, there are changes."
On Wednesday out in Fort Lauderdale, the Red Bulls took down Inter Miami 1-0, with midfield talisman Luquinhas playing a big part in the lone goal scored by Tom Barlow.
That battle in the middle of the pitch, for Pereyra, will be something to watch for come Saturday.
"[It will be a] battle in the middle," he said, "I think they have a lot of quality and good players who can make a difference. Probably they are not in the best moment now and we need to take advantage of that."
Odds and ends
- Forward Gastón González is "recovering faster than we thought" according to Pareja. His recovery will still take some time, but the good news is that it could be shorter than originally anticipated.
- Defender Luca Petrasso is getting back into training with the team after working off to the side the last week and a half as he comes back from a right thigh injury.
- Defender Mikey Halliday and the United States Under-20 National Team are into the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals after beating New Zealand 4-0. The U.S. is the only team in the tournament that has yet to allow a goal thus far. Their next match will be against Uruguay on June 4.
Don't miss Kickoff -60, airing one hour before Orlando City's match against New York, 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.