Head Coach Oscar Pareja returns for his second year at the helm, looking to build off the success from a year ago that saw his team make a run to the MLS is Back Tournament Final and its first appearance in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Pareja’s side had a record-setting year on both sides of the ball, with an average of 1.74 goals per game, while conceding just 1.09, both Club records.
On the offensive side of the ball, four of the Lions’ top five goal scorers return to start the year, in Chris Mueller, Nani, Benji Michel and Júnior Urso. The four combined for 24 regular-season finishes for the Lions a year ago, with Mueller having a breakout campaign to lead the side with 10. Forward Daryl Dike comprised the fifth member of that list, but is currently on loan to EFL Championship side Barnsley FC. City’s leading assist man in 2020, Mauricio Pereyra, also returns to the Club for the year, but will miss the first two matches of the 2021 campaign due to suspension.
For Club & Country
Four members of the Lions’ roster appeared on the international stage this past offseason, with Chris Mueller, Daryl Dike, Andrés Perea and Benji Michel all debuting for the US since last competing in MLS play. Mueller made his USMNT debut on Dec. 9 against El Salvador, netting a brace and an assist in the match. Perea and Dike each made their senior debuts at Exploria Stadium on Jan. 31 against Trinidad & Tobago, while Benji Michel joined Perea on the U.S. U-23’s Olympic Qualifying roster, making his U-23 debut and notching an assist in the competition.
Last Time Against The Five Stripes…
City last squared off against The Five Stripes on Oct. 28, 2020, earning a resounding 4-1 victory on the night. Daryl Dike scored the first goal of the match in the 29th minute before Chris Mueller netted a screamer off a free kick from outside the area before halftime. Tesho Akindele would triple the advantage in the 60th before Matheus Aiás closed out the scoring on the evening in second-half stoppage time, netting a finish in his home debut. The Lions finished out 2020 unbeaten against The Five Stripes, with a 2-0-2 record through four contests.
Six newcomers join the Lions for the 2021 MLS campaign, highlighted by Brazilian forward Pato, formerly of AC Milan, along with young Dutch forward Silvester van der Water. City has also added goalkeeper Brandon Austin out of Tottenham’s academy, along with 2021 MLS SuperDraft selection Rio Hope-Gund, who was named Big East Defender of the Year this past week. A pair of Homegrown signees close out the Lions’ latest additions, with forward Wilfredo Rivera and midfielder Raul Aguilera inking First Team contracts this past offseason.
Continuing the Streak
On Saturday at Exploria, City will look to remain unbeaten in opening fixtures throughout Club history, boasting a 1-0-5 record in six previous contests. The Lions battled to a scoreless draw against Western Conference side Real Salt Lake a year ago, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese earning a shutout between the sticks in his MLS debut.