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Orlando City Plays it Smart, Plays to Win in US Open Cup

Orlando City continues its 2016 U.S. Open Cup run tomorrow against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and one of its young, up-and-coming players will make yet another appearance with the first team.

Twenty-two-year-old midfielder Tony Rocha was called up today to play with the first team for the second time this tournament. Rocha played with the Lions during their 1-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada, and his strong play both in that game and with OCB made him an obvious choice for Wednesday’s match.

“Getting to play with the first team is always a great opportunity,” Rocha said. “[I want to show] I can play here next season. I’m just using this to make a statement and help the first team.”

It’s the same attitude held by thousands of reserve players around the world.

MLS teams have been criticized in the past for not taking the Open Cup seriously. They often field their B teams and reserves, saving the starters for League games. 

Orlando City can’t really be criticized for doing so – of the 18 players selected in the fourth round against the Jacksonville Armada, only four were not full-time first-teamers – but it can’t be faulted for using reserves, either.

Like all clubs striving to reach the world’s grandest stages, Orlando City realizes the importance of its domestic cup. It’s the most direct route to the CONCACAF Champions League, which is the only way to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup. 

But these games are played in the middle of the week – right in the middle of the MLS schedule, which has one of the most grueling travel requirements in the world. And while winning the U.S. Open Cup would bring Orlando City its first trophy in the MLS era, qualifying for the MLS playoffs is a top priority.

You can’t expect to do well in either tournament with the same players playing 90 minutes over and over again.

So it’s a natural solution to call up reserves. That’s why MLS teams and big clubs around the world have B teams and reserve teams – for tournaments like this. So when they get to the Champions League, they can field their top teams against the best teams on the continent, while still fielding teams strong enough to win league games.

Because, after all, you can’t win in one without winning in the other. And for a club as young as Orlando City, quality reserves are even more important.

So for now, while the Lions work their way through the early rounds of the tournament, relying a few reserves is the best way to ensure success in both.

Plus, it offers an opportunity. Which is all players like Rocha can ask for.

“I just want to take this opportunity to go out there and try to help the first team win the Cup.”

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UPDATE: June 10, 2020 - Major League Soccer announced it will restart the 2020 season with all 26 MLS clubs competing in the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida beginning July 8. Upon completion of the tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets. The revised schedule may see certain matches from the original 2020 MLS regular season schedule being cancelled or rescheduled. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season and related ticket policies will be announced in the coming weeks.