Orlando City scored 40 goals in just 23 games in the truncated 2020 Major League Soccer regular season, a pace that would have broken their previous record over a full campaign.
In 2021, the Lions could boast even more firepower.
“Last year, I thought [the attack] was a big step forward towards what we want...but at the same time we want to improve,” said Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja in his first press conference of the 2021 preseason. “We know and understand that this is a very competitive league, and in order to achieve [our] objectives, we want to be better and that’s the reason why we aimed for bringing in two more attacking players.”
Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato and Dutch winger Silvester van der Water were both acquired in the offseason to bring “versatility,” according to Pareja. He hopes to have both players through the visa process and in camp by the middle of next week.
Pato and van der Water will join a deep and talented group of goalscorers. Pareja took stock of his attacking corps and came away impressed.
“Nani came [into camp] even better physically,” he said. “The other boys, Matheus Aiás, Tesho [Akindele], [Alexander] Alvarado, same with Mauricio Pereyra, [David] Loera, Jordan Bender also came in a great, great, great mode and looks like he’s so eager to step up. Chris Mueller and the other boys, so we’re very optimistic.”
Nani has captained Orlando City each of the past two seasons and led the team to the final of the MLS is Back Tournament and its first MLS Cup Playoffs appearance in 2020. Mueller broke into the U.S. national team picture with a 10-goal campaign in the shortened season, while Pereyra pulled the strings and ranked among the league leaders in assists per 90 minutes.
And then there’s Daryl Dike, who became an overnight sensation with eight goals in 15 starts, earning an international cap and a short-term loan with English Championship side Barnsley FC. Dike has torn it up in England, scoring twice and leading Barnsley to six straight league victories, putting the Reds firmly in the promotion picture. Dike’s loan ends with the conclusion of the Championship season in May.
With firepower to spare, Pareja’s expectations for 2021 remain as high as ever.
“I said on the first day that I came to this club more than a year ago that…I always aim to win titles,” Pareja said. “I think that’s the least I can transmit to our players and the culture that we want to develop in Orlando. Our goals have to be always the highest, and the highest is pursuing the big prize, which is winning cups and titles, and I won’t say anything different this year. That’s what we’re pursuing.”