Since Head Coach James O’Connor arrived in Orlando, he has stressed the importance of a strong, unwavering mentality.
Just four games into the Lions’ 2019 MLS campaign, it is safe to say that very mentality has been tested.
Following two draws to start the year that many in City’s camp would say should have gone its way in the form of three points, that mentality looked to have faltered in a loss to Montreal at home.
Now faced with a road test at Red Bull Arena, arguably the most difficult place to play in Major League Soccer, the Lions were looking to shock everyone but themselves by earning a result against the 2018 Supporters’ Shield winners.
Saturday’s eventual 1-0 victory did just that. The win served not only as the first of the year, but the first complete team performance that O’Connor was looking for.
“I think the level of commitment was excellent,” O’Connor said of Saturday’s result. “I think obviously the chance creation was very good. We made it very difficult for them to get any real clear-cut opportunities. We were pleased with that performance.”
With the season still is in its very early stages, those who follow the Club have already seen the O’Connor mentality and the culture he has instilled at full display.
From coming back from a two-goal deficit in the season opener against NYCFC to Saturday’s win, the contributions have come from all over, both from Club veterans and newcomers.
MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan clearly was the hero on Saturday, scoring the goal in his former stomping grounds that led to the victory while also having arguably his best performance of the season.
When looking at the impact of the newcomers, defender João Moutinho became the third Lion this season to register an assist in his Club debut, with Nani having done so in the opener and Santiago Patiño replicating the same feat against Montreal.
“I think James has done a fantastic job of establishing a culture, an identity, a work ethic and a standard that he expects when we step on the field each week,” goalkeeper Brian Rowe said. “We were all very proud of the performance that we put together and that’s our new standard of what we expect of our guys week in and week out.”
Looking ahead to this week’s match, the Lions face a formidable opponent at home in current Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United. Now with the first win of the season behind, City will look to build off of last week’s performance at Red Bull Arena and carry over that success against Wayne Rooney and company on Sunday at Orlando City Stadium.
“For us we’ve been really pleased, go back to preseason, the intensity throughout preseason, the quality that we’ve shown in games,” O’Connor said. “The one blip was Montreal. I think taking that out we were really pleased with the group and the levels that they’ve been able to hit.
“Now we move on and we’ve got a very difficult game against D.C., which we’re all looking forward to now."