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Orlando City aims to improve fitness, forge tighter bonds during nine days in Mexico

The team will endure three-a-day trainings and play matches against the Columbus Crew and Inter Playa during the course of the trip.

Coach Óscar Pareja warms up his team with a keep-away game during preseason training. Photo by Julia Poe.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — After Orlando City spent a week practicing twice daily at its new facility, the Lions packed up on Monday to spend the next week of preseason in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

During the nine-day trip to Mexico, Orlando City will play two preseason matches against Columbus Crew and Liga Premier side Inter Playa.

Although the team will be departing a somewhat chilly week in Orlando for the sunny weather of Cancun, coach Óscar Pareja made it clear this will be a business trip. He plans to put the team through three daily training sessions while in Mexico and said with a laugh that he’ll only hit the beach to run.

That high workload is meant to bring the entire team up to the same fitness level to ensure the Lions have a strong physical base to start the season.

“We’re going to overload the group,” Pareja said. “We’ll use this week to level many of the players who came in from the offseason. Preseason is like that. We have youngsters that this is going to be the first preseason that we’re very excited to bring on the trip, some others that already have many preseasons on their bodies and they know this time is to overload themselves.”

While continuing to build endurance, the week abroad will also provide time for the Lions to build connections between returning players, recent signees and their new coach.

Midfielder Júnior Urso said he is beginning to see the general attitude of Pareja’s approach to the game — high-possession and attack-oriented — but defender Ruan said on Monday that the team hasn’t seen a clear picture of Pareja’s definitive style or structure for the 2020 season.

As Orlando City departs for the trip, Pareja said that the next week will continue to serve as time to create team chemistry before implementing a set design of play.

“Something that’s very important is to gel the group together,” Pareja said. “[We] need to just try to have time with everybody so we can know and take advantage of the time, also to just put the idea of what we want through to them.”

With the departure of centerback Lamine Sané and the arrival of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, the preseason will be critical for the defense to form a new bond. Centerback Robin Jansson noted the goalkeepers haven’t actively trained with the backline yet, meaning their first chance to build defensive chemistry will come during the Mexico sessions and matches.

Pareja said the trip will also give players the opportunity to bond more during their downtime by taking the entire team out of the Orlando area. He said that he felt grateful the club could take a trip to Mexico — which he noted was a logistical challenge — to offer the players a week isolated away from family, friends and external distractions to focus on the team.

The coach said he hopes this will allow the team to feed off of the “very good” energy of the first week of training, which saw high levels of excitement as new and old players adjusted to one another.

“First week is easy,” Pareja said. “You find a lot of energy from everyone. There is a joy and expectations and optimism. I say to the players that from now is when the time comes when we have to become stronger and make sure we can keep that level of concentration and optimism and energy to see that we can overcome every obstacle that we have. That will make us a strong team.”

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