Orlando City

Three observations from the start of Orlando City's preseason training

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Are you ready for some fútbol?

Preparations for the 2023 MLS campaign are fast underway as Orlando City returned to the field this week at Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park for its preseason training.

Here are three observations from the opening three days in camp:

Hungry for more

A new season always brings a wave of optimism with high aspirations, and the Lions' mindset is no different entering 2023. If there's one thing that has been clear from this group it's that last year's success has only made them hungrier to make more history.

Fresh off securing a playoff berth and the club's first MLS hardware, where it captured the U.S. Open Cup championship after downing USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC at Exploria Stadium in September, the Lions are looking to take the next step and add to their trophy case.

"Expectations are always the same -- once you start it, if you're not aiming for the big prize, you're in the wrong direction," Lions head coach Oscar Pareja said Monday. "Expectations have always been the highest (level). We have achieved some trophies, but we're aiming for the big one."

New faces fitting in well

It was a busy offseason for Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi, Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira and the Lions front office, adding several new players who look to have a big impact on the squad this season.

Among the new arrivals in preseason training this week are designated player Martín Ojeda, veteran Felipe Martins from Austin FC and defender Luca Petrasso, who was acquired in a November trade with Toronto FC.

"We are very excited to these guys that came in new -- players that are going to help us be a better team," Pareja said. "They have a tremendous talent. They have been selected and chosen by the club with a lot of information, and we're very happy."

Captain Mauricio Pereyra, back with City on a new two-year deal through 2024, said the team's returning players have made it a priority to get the newcomers comfortable and acclimated into the squad quickly.

"We have a structure ... we won a Cup already, and we know we have a lot of goals in front (of us)," he said. "We have to help them get inside of the team as soon as possible, and then they will help us get to (the next step)."

The 24-year-old Ojeda, who inked a three-year contract through 2025 with club options in 2026 and 2027 after posting 32 goals and 21 assists in 97 matches for the historic club Godoy Cruz of Argentina’s Primera División before the start of preseason, said he's quickly getting up to speed. It also helps to have a couple familiar faces in the room as well.

"There's different compatriots and teammates that I know," the midfielder said through a translator.

"Rodrigo (Schlegel) and I were together at Racing (Club) during our time down there and we started a few games together. I know Wilder (Cartagena) from the little time that I've gotten to spend with him as a teammate, and I know that we've got some other teammates and countrymen of mine that I've still got to meet. So, it'll make the adaption a lot easier, and I'm excited to get started."

Energy, energy, energy

From sun up to sun down, Pareja's group has set the tone and brought the juice early.

Between morning and evening sessions, preparations are already ramping up with workouts, high-paced ball drills, conditioning and more as the squad prepares for training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton from Jan. 23 through 28, and its first closed-door exhibition scrimmage against Minnesota United on Feb. 1. 

"The most important part is trying to mold the group and try to get all this energy and put them all together," Pareja said. "Just getting good players is not enough, it's trying to gel them up and then making sure that they are complimentary to each other.

"That's the job that we need to do early in the year."