Pareja Progress

Pareja, Nani Impressed with Preseason Progress

It is undeniably true that the results of preseason fixtures don’t actually matter. The points don’t start being calculated until February 29. That’s when we reach, in Luiz Muzzi’s words, the “real matches.”

But it doesn’t hurt to win them either.

Orlando City is making a habit of that this month. The Lions have taken five of the six friendlies they’ve played to date, including wins over the Montreal Impact, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and reigning Icelandic champions KR Reykjavik, whom Orlando calmly dispatched 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Former Manchester United star Nani has been in particularly good form. The Portuguese hero has scored four goals this preseason, including a first-half brace against Reykjavik. Head coach Oscar Pareja knows he needs the captain in top form in 2020.

“It is great to have Luis Nani on the scoreboard,” said Pareja after Tuesday’s match. “He knows how important it is for our team that his presence and his talent get him in those moments where we need him the most.”

Nani led Orlando City in both goals (12) and assists (10) last season, the first player in club history to do so. He also started against Atletico Madrid in the MLS All-Star Game at Exploria Stadium and broke the club record for total goal contributions in a single season.

“I think we are in a good position to have a good start, to show we’ve been working hard,” Nani said to assembled media on Thursday. “I think everyone is very confident with the team...We just need to be ourselves, be confident, and try to do our best.”

Much attention has been paid to Pareja’s defensive accomplishments at FC Dallas, where his sturdy backline propelled him to a Supporters’ Shield/US Open Cup double in 2016, but the team has worked tirelessly to improve offensively, as well. Pareja not only wants to see Orlando City on the ball more often, but in a way that has an impact.

“My idea of possession is to have a practical possession, a possession that is helping us to unorganize a team,” he said. “It has an objective, not a ‘possess the ball to possess it,’ I think that’s wasting time. I see the team creating sequences with the ball with a purpose, and I sense it. I know they’re doing something to unorganize the other team and I enjoy those moments. We want to get into the spaces where we put our players in a position that can hurt the other team, be able to make ruptures and break their lines, and create opportunities to score goals. That’s the game.”

Orlando were able to accomplish this comfortably in Tuesday night’s open scrimmage, putting three goals past Reykjavik in a first half where the Lions largely dictated the game. Nani attributes the preseason success to a sense of togetherness in the group.

“We are more a team than individual players,” said the captain. “Everyone knows we have fantastic players in our team, a lot of quality, but as a team we had to improve a lot of stuff. Now we are a little bit better, because the main focus was to prepare the team to perform better as a team. We can see in the game [that] the results have been fantastic. I hope we can continue to perform like that.”

Not long now until we find out.

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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.