After holding down a 4-1 record throughout June, Orlando City will head into a two-game series against Philadelphia this week with growing confidence and a bolstered bench.
Coach James O’Connor said Monday forward Dom Dwyer is healthy and prepared to return to play after staying home with his newborn daughter during the weekend. Dwyer and Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux Dwyer welcomed their second child, Roux James, early last Friday morning.
Dwyer returned to practice with the team on Monday morning, where he was greeted with hugs from many members of the club who were seeing him for the first time since his daughter’s birth.
Wednesday’s homestand against Philadelphia could mark Dwyer’s first minutes on the pitch since May. Prior to his daughter’s birth, the forward was sidelined with a hamstring injury and missed the entirety of the team’s 4-1 run in June.
Dwyer burst into the start of the season as Orlando’s top scorer, netting three goals during the team’s first five games. Although his goal production slowed, Dwyer consistently provides another offensive threat to the Orlando attacking front.
The team will also see the return of all four of its players who were called up for the Concacaf Gold Cup. Greg Ranjitsingh (Trinidad and Tobago), Sebas Mendez (Ecuador), Will Johnson (Canada) and Kamal Miller (Canada) all returned to practice on Monday, while Danilo Acosta (Honduras) returned to team training late last week.
The team’s only questionable availability centers around a pair of players with nagging hamstring injuries – João Moutinho and Cristian Higuita. Moutinho remains day-to-day, and O’Connor confirmed that he will remain sidelined for Wednesday’s game. Higuita will not return to play for several weeks, according to team officials.
Shutout builds backline confidence
Besides adding to the team’s recent upward trend, Saturday’s win also notched a rare shutout for the team that has struggled defensively this year. Orlando City has kept only four clean sheets this season, two of which came in the month of June – Saturday’s match and a 3-0 rout against Montreal.
In Columbus, Orlando fended off ten shots to protect its 2-0 advantage. Part of this defensive success came from keeper Brian Rowe, who notched three saves, including an acrobatic leap to block a potential equalizer bicycle kick from Robinho.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just trying to reinforce the defensive principles, not just for the defenders, but for our whole team,” O’Connor said. “I thought the shape defensively was excellent on Saturday. There was a lot of hard running from multiple guys that really put a shift in and it was great to see.”
The core of the defense, however, stems from the growing partnership between centerbacks Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson. After toying with three-back options early in the season, O’Connor shifted into a four-back defense centered around Sané and Jansson during Orlando’s 1-0 win over Vancouver in April and has stuck with it since. For a team battling injuries and international call-ups, the pair has since offered some much-needed consistency.
“I think we are finding each other really good, just feeling each other,” Jansson said. “We almost know what the other guy is going to do and we cover for each other. I think it fits good and it’s getting better and better.”