In the lead-up to Sunday’s match against D.C. United, Orlando City made it clear that they’re looking to take all three points from the Eastern Conference leaders.
The Lions respect D.C.; they know what United are capable of. The team has earned six points against City this season, though not necessarily because they were the better team.
“They got lucky twice,” defender Aurélien Collin said bluntly.
It was Collin’s second-half injury that sparked United’s comeback victory on May 13th. D.C. struck just three minutes after Collin left the field and scored the winner nine minutes later.
“When you play as well as we did in both games and come out with nothing, it does leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but as I said to the guys this morning, it’s not going to be any easier on Sunday. They’re probably one of the oldest teams in the league. They never beat themselves,” said Adrian Heath on Friday, “which is something we’ve done on numerous occasions this season.”
So it’s clear why the Lions respect United. They’re a veteran team that has a seven-point cushion on second place for a reason. But City also made it clear that while they respect the Black-and-Red, they don’t fear them.
The Lions have hit their stride since these two teams last met, picking up eight points in four matches. Pedro Ribeiro has stepped back into the lineup and produced; Carlos Rivas has begun to find his form; and Kaká has been much more aggressive on the attack. They’re all signs of a young team growing into its own, and the rematch against D.C. is an opportunity to prove themselves and take back some of those points.
“We’re going to have to earn everything to get something from this game. But we have shown in the last couple of weeks that we have enough to actually win the game and I’m expecting us to win,” said Heath.
But the Lions aren’t the only ones getting back to full strength. Argentine striker Fabián Espíndola is back in the lineup for United after recovering from a knee injury. Espíndola played the second half on June 3rd against Chicago and picked up two assists, helping D.C. come from behind to put out the Fire.
It will be the first time Orlando City faces D.C. with Espíndola, but Heath & Co. are certainly familiar with what he can do.
“He’s one of those players that just gets under the skin. He keeps going, he keeps probing, he never gives in. It’s another big plus for them having another forward of his caliber to come back.”
One thing the Lions have that D.C. doesn’t, though, is a sense of urgency. As the Eastern Conference table tightens up, points are at even more of a premium. Last week in Chicago, Orlando City harnessed that urgency and used it to storm back to victory and leap into the playoff picture.
“This year we had two options: The first one is to lay down in the expansion first year and just use it as an excuse,” said captain Kaká. “Or make history and put the team in the playoffs. Now the team chooses the second option and we are doing great.”
The point streak has built up quite a bit of confidence in the camp.
“Now, more than ever, I think this team can arrive in the playoffs,” said Kaká.