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International players return to Orlando City, offering boost ahead of New England match

All five of the team’s international players returned to training from national team duty on Thursday to prepare for the weekend’s game.

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City’s training group at Lake Sylvan Park was a little larger on Thursday morning as five players returned after almost two weeks of international duty.

Will Johnson, Tesho Akindele and Kamal Miller returned from playing with the Canadian national team in the Cayman Islands on Wednesday night, while Carlos Ascues flew in from Los Angeles and Sebas Méndez traveled back from Ecuador.

The players could give Orlando City a boost during a critical match against New England Saturday at Exploria Stadium if they are not worn down by their national team obligations. A loss would crush the Lions’ playoff hopes.

With the risk of Hurricane Dorian, the players had departed directly from San Jose to their national teams. The group spent 12 days away from the Lions and will now look to recover in time for Saturday’s match.

Playing for Peru and Ecuador respectively, Ascues and Méndez spent a night as opponents last Thursday as their teams went head to head at Red Bull Arena, although they didn’t face each other on the pitch.

After playing two full matches and traveling for 14 hours on Wednesday, Méndez had the heaviest workload among the called-up players.

Méndez helped Ecuador earn a 3-0 win over Bolivia on Tuesday and a 1-0 win over Peru last Thursday. He traveled to New York for the first game and then to Ecuador for the second, logging more than 7,000 miles in the air.

Midfielder Will Johnson also played a full 90 minutes for Canada on Tuesday during a 1-0 win over Cuba. Defender Kamal Miller earned his first start for the Canadians during their 6-0 win over Cuba on Saturday.

Orlando City coach James O’Connor said he is wary of the wear and tear a week of national team obligations can have on his players, treating Thursday’s training as a test of their match readiness.

The biggest question for the team will revolve around the midfield, which lost three players — Ascues, Méndez and Johnson — to the international matches. Midfielder Uri Rosell will not be available for Saturday’s game against New England due to yellow card accumulation after earning a card in the 90th minute of the Lions’ match against LAFC.

With Rosell suspended and Mauricio Pereyra questionable for this weekend, the midfield roster will be thinned out without the reintegration of international players. The group has been bolstered by the return of Cristian Higuita — who played 74 minutes against LAFC — but will look to its returning players to round out the midfield.

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