Leading the Lions
On Saturday, the Oscar Pareja era will begin in Orlando with the 2016 MLS Coach of the Year named the Orlando City Head Coach this past offseason. Pareja comes to Orlando with seven seasons of experience in the same role between fellow MLS sides FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids. The Medellin, Colombia native spent two years in Colorado before joining FC Dallas two years later, where he won the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup double in 2016. He departed Dallas in 2018 as the winningest head coach in club history, compiling a 78-49-43 record and four postseason appearances through five seasons.
New Kids on the Block
The City roster features nine new faces this season, featuring Peruvian National Team goalkeeper Pedro Gallese in net. On the backline, the Lions welcomed Antonio Carlos from Brazilian Série A side Palmeiras and Racing Guard academy product Rodrigo Schlegel. In the midfield, City signed two Homegrown products in David Loera and Jordan Bender, while also inking 2020 MLS SuperDraft selection Joey DeZart to a contract. Closing out the midfield are two marquee South American signings in former Corinthians midfielder Júnior Urso and Atlético Nacional product Andrés Perea. Up top, the Lions added forward Daryl Dike this offseason, selecting the Virginia product at No. 5 overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.
Saturday will serve as the second time the Lions will host Real Salt Lake in a season-opening fixture, the first taking place in 2016 at Camping World Stadium. That match resulted in a 2-2 draw, with the Lions scoring two goals in second-half stoppage time after trailing 2-0 entering the 90th minute. Former Lions forward Cyle Larin struck first in the 94th, followed by former midfielder Adrian Winter a minute later to earn a late result for City from the match.
Keeping the Streak
Since joining Major League Soccer in 2015, the Lions remain unbeaten in their five previous season openers, holding a 1-0-4 record in those contests. Last season, City overcame a 2-0 halftime deficit to earn a 2-2 draw over 2015 expansion rivals NYCFC. Forwards Chris Mueller and Tesho Akindele accounted for the finishes in that match, with Dom Dwyer and Nani each earning an assist.
Back for More
Returning to the Lions from the 2019 roster includes each of the team’s top-five goalscorers from a year ago in forwards Nani, Tesho Akindele, Dom Dwyer, Chris Mueller and Benji Michel. In the midfield, Ecuadorian international Sebastián Méndez returns along with Uri Rosell and Mauricio Pereyra. On the defensive end, Robin Jansson, Ruan, João Moutinho and Kamal Miller return from a backline that tied a Club-record for shutouts in a single-season and helped the Lions to concede 22 less goals than the year prior, the second best improvement in MLS recorded last season.
Pepsi Post-Game Performance
Following Saturday’s match, Orlando City will host its first ever postgame concert in celebration of its newly announced partnership with PepsiCo Beverages North America. The performance will feature singer Ally Brooke and is free to all ticketed fans. Brooke, formerly of Fifth Harmony, was a finalist on the X-Factor and has since featured on popular shows such as Lip Sync Battle and Dancing with the Stars.