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Orlando City midfielder Yoshi Yotún ready, eager to return to action for Lions

Orlando City midfield Yoshi Yotun walks to training at Sylvan Lake Park after returning from the World Cup. (Jordan Culver-Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City midfielder Yoshi Yotún didn’t hesitate when asked if he’s ready to play for Orlando City again.

He’s been gone for months with the Peru men’s national team. He acquitted himself well at the World Cup in Russia, putting together three solid performances in the group stage. It wasn’t enough for Peru to advance to the knockout rounds, but he’s still proud of what he and his teammates accomplished in Peru’s first World Cup appearance since 1982.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Yotún said via a translator of his time in Russia. “Obviously, one of the top national team competitions. And I learned a lot, even though we didn’t make it out of the group. I thought we played well and it was an incredible opportunity for me.”

Now, his attention is fully back with the Lions and he said he’s ready to play on Saturday against LAFC, pending a decision from new coach James O’Connor.

Really, Orlando City was never far from Yotún’s mind.

“Always watched the team,” he said. “Always paid attention to what’s going on. I’m a member of this club and I always want to be in the loop and aware of what’s happening here.

“I’ve been with the club for a long time now. For a year. It’s not really a problem for me to re-integrate myself. Obviously, we have a new coach right now, but I think we’re ready to perform.”

Yotún’s been missed – the Lions lost all seven of the games they played without him.

When he left, the Lions were still above the playoff line. The six-match win streak had ended, but he left a club that was still led by Jason Kreis.

“I’m never going to be disappointed in this team,” Yotún said.

“We have a great squad. We’re obviously in a bad stretch right now, but earlier in the year, we were in a good stretch and we weren’t the best team in the world. Now we’re in a bad stretch and we’re not the worst team in the world, so I’m never going to be disappointed with this team.”

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said the club has missed the presence of Yotún on the pitch.

“First and foremost, just to have him back with the team will be great because he’s a very good player,” Kljestan said in a previous interview with Pro Soccer USA. “I think, when he comes back from the World Cup, he should have tons of confidence because I think he played great in all three games.

“His long passing is one of his best attributes. The ability for our strikers to run in behind and have those long passes from Yoshi really opens up the space for other players to operate in the middle of the field.”

Kljestan was speaking before Orlando City lost 4-0 to Atlanta United.

“I can’t say we’ve lost seven games in a row strictly because Yoshi hasn’t been here, but it will be great to have him back because, obviously, what he does in all facets of the game will help us as a team,” Kljestan said.

While Yotún was gone, Orlando City has plummeted out of the playoff picture, Kreis – and most of his staff – were fired and the Lions have been scrambling for answers with 17 games left in the season.          

He’s not disappointed, but he still knows the Lions don’t have much time to turn things around. The club sits in ninth place with a 6-10-1 record (19 points). The Lions face LAFC (9-4-4, 31 points) at 11 p.m. Eastern on Saturday at Banc of California Stadium.

“It’s a long season and we have to keep working to make it to the playoffs,” he said. “Right now, we’re focusing on every game. The next game. Each game is going to be a final for us.”

O’Connor has already made an impression on Yotún.

“He showed a lot of confidence and excitement and that’s exactly what we need right now,” Yotún said. “It was a great day for the club.”

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