When Orlando City takes the field against D.C. United on Sunday night, it will have been 690 days since the two teams played each other.
In that time, D.C. has turned over about half their roster, replaced Ben Olsen as head coach after more than a decade in charge and reset their identity after a run to the postseason in 2018 fueled by Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney.
It was Rooney who carved his place in MLS history mostly against Orlando, scoring or assisting the winning goal in all three of his appearances against the Lions, always in spectacular fashion. In his final game against the Lions on June 26, 2019, he scored from behind halfway to gift his side a 1-0 victory. Orlando City forward Chris Mueller, who was there for all three of those matches, is not too sad to see Rooney back in his native England.
“The games vs. D.C. United have always been interesting. We typically had Wayne Rooney scoring crazy goals against us, so thankfully he’s gone and he won’t have the opportunity to do that anymore,” said Mueller with a smile.
He’s excited to see a new look Black-and-Red, too: “It’s fun for us too because it’s providing us with a new challenge, not playing the same couple of opponents week in and week out. We know D.C. is a good team and we’re stepping up to the challenge.”
In Olsen’s place is Argentine head coach Hernán Losada, hired from Beerschot in the Belgian top flight. A disciple of the legendary Marcelo Bielsa, Losada has installed an up-tempo style and a 3-5-2 formation, demanding peak fitness at all times from his players. It’s been a challenge just to get most of them on the field, though – D.C. has had the longest injured list in the League in 2021 and has yet to field a full nine-man bench this season.
“I understand the urgencies that United has had just to get some results,” said Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja. “I don’t have any doubt that it’s going to be a very competitive match, just going away and trying to prove ourselves that we’re doing the right thing. No doubt that it’s going to be against a team that...has an idea that has been established by this new coach.”
As always when they hit the road, though, Orlando City will look to impose their own signature style on the game. Oscar Pareja’s Lions are 7-4-7 away from Exploria Stadium in all competitions, counting neutral-site games.
“It’s a good moment for us to go away and try to add more points,” said Pareja. “The boys have been working very well during the week and we’re very optimistic.”
Set for kickoff at 8 p.m. ET, local television coverage of Sunday’s match starts at 7:30 p.m. on FOX35 PLUS and LionNation TV, with radio coverage from the same time on Real Radio 104.1 in English and Acción 97.9 FM and 810 AM in Spanish.