What a run.
One way or another, the Lions’ time at the MLS is Back Tournament was going to come to an end on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the ending was not the one the group hoped for, but the path there is certainly one to be proud of.
When the pundits were making their predictions for which two sides would remain on August 11th, very few would have picked this Orlando City team as one that would play for a title. However, the group pushed that all aside and the team showed up to MLS is Back with an identity and a style of play that propelled them to their first cup final in the MLS era.
The run itself was not riddled with flukes or lucky moments, but of consistent performances centered around controlling the possession in each fixture and being the protagonists on the pitch. While many did not put the Lions in Tuesday’s match at the start, few would argue that they did not deserve to be there after their play through the six matches leading in.
“The way they have been gelling together, the leadership that they have within the group is great. The players who have been in prior processes and put in that experience on behalf of the whole group, the youngsters willing to adapt and also connect with those ideas to put everybody on the same page,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “The group of staff and coaches have trained tremendously as well since we started the preseason. For me it’s not strange the success that we have had because we have worked very hard.”
With the success at MLS is Back, the groundwork has been laid for the looming return to regular-season play, with the Lions set to play six matches throughout the course of three weeks with two fixtures apiece against Inter Miami, Atlanta United and Nashville SC.
Heading into those matches, Orlando City has proven the quality that their opponents will have to consider, while showcasing their newfound, possession-oriented identity under Pareja.
“We learned we are a better team at this moment. We improved as a group, as a Club, and let’s be honest we must accept that we are not the same team as before and you all know that. You all saw our games, you have seen this Final, you see the way we’ve been playing, you see the way every team who plays against us behaves against us,” Lions’ captain Luis Nani said.
“I hope to our fans, to all of the people who trust us, they are proud of us because from today we just can be better and to every team in MLS now who will face us, they know they will face a strong team and will respect that on the field. We wanted to compete and show everyone our passion for soccer and our passion brought us to the Final and made everyone dream about winning a trophy. Unlucky we didn’t get that one, but everyone saw what we did and everyone saw our quality of football and everyone saw who was better on the field.”
With the longest stay in the bubble of any MLS side at 49 days, the Lions now return with their sights set on the regular-season fixtures to come. The tournament was an exciting time for the Club and all involved, but Pareja and his group have already begun to shift their focus to their first visit to Lockhart Stadium in less than two weeks.
“Tomorrow we have to tie our boots again, put it on and prepare for the game against Miami. That is not any other formula, I don’t see any other. We just keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going,” Pareja said. “We’re prepared for the roller coaster that this game creates on our journey. We’re good, the good thing is that we have a group who has the willingness to accept what is coming and keep improving. That I’m sure, but the competition doesn’t stop and we’ll continue."