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Orlando City centerbacks looking to improve communication

Chicago Fire forward C.J. Sapong (9) and Orlando City centerback Shane O'Neill (12) battle for the ball during the first half at SeatGeek Stadium. (Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City centerback Shane O’Neill took full responsibility for Saturday’s disappointing result against the Chicago Fire.

The Lions left Bridgeview with just a point after giving up a goal in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time, settling for a 1-1 draw in miserable conditions at SeatGeek Stadium. The goal, a header from Fire forward CJ Sapong, was a “bang-bang” play, O’Neill said.

“I definitely would take full responsibility,” O’Neill told Pro Soccer USA before training on Monday. “I needed to mark my man in the box. I think I misjudged it a little bit. I thought Alex [De John] was going to get a head on it, but it was totally my misjudgment. I put my hand up and take full responsibility.”

He added, “Obviously, I was gutted. I was gutted for the guys, really, more than anything else because I felt that I let down my teammates and the staff. That was a huge, the biggest, disappointment. But, I’ve got to move on now.”

The result was all the more disappointing because Orlando City’s three centerbacks worked well together for the majority of Saturday’s match, O’Neill said.

“I think we’ve been pushing each other a lot, especially in training,” O’Neill said. “Obviously, it was an unfortunate ending to the last game. Disappointed. Disappointed in myself. I think, on the whole, if you zoom out, I think it’s been good so far.” 

Orlando City (0-0-2, 2 points) plays the Montreal Impact (1-1-0, 3 points) on Saturday at home. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. Eastern. The Impact are coming off a 2-1 road loss to the Houston Dynamo. 

Orlando City has used a three-centerback formation during its first two matches, with O’Neill, rookie Kamal Miller and De John, who is in his first MLS season, as the team’s three centerbacks.

“I hope that we can build that chemistry,” O’Neill said. “It’s one of those things that we all have to take a little bit of leadership on that back line. It’s been a pleasure playing with Alex so far. He’s a fantastic covering central defender and I feel like he always has my back, which is really, really big. Hopefully we can keep developing that partnership.”

O’Neill added Miller has been “fantastic.” 

“The poise he’s shown has been fantastic, for a rookie,” O’Neill said. “It’s been top notch. I think for us, it’s just about bringing him along a little bit in the sense that there’s going to be moments — I mean, I had a moment this weekend — there’s going to be moments for everybody. I think just continuing to work week-in, week-out. At the end of the day, he’s still young. We’ve all got to get better, but he’s been off to such a great start.” 

Chicago started Saturday’s match looking like the more dangerous side — forward Nemanja Nikolić had two golden chances early – but the Lions settled into the match and were stout defensively after some early miscues until the match-tying goal.

“Definitely a tough one to swallow,” De John said. “It’s hard to replay. I watched it a couple of times. We had the ball in their half with … 15 seconds left, let’s say? They get an offside call. … We’re a little bit too deep. They get a ball in, they pick it up, they play it wide, they cross it. Positionally, I could have been a little bit tighter to Shane and closer.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a tough one to swallow. I think we played really well as a back three, our defense, our team defending the whole entire game. [The Fire] didn’t really have much, except for the first five or 10 minutes.”

De John said communication between the three centerbacks is improving.

“It’s definitely getting better and better every game,” De John said. “Getting a little bit more of an understanding of how we want to play and how we communicate. So far, I think it’s good. I think it needed to be a little bit better of the beginning of the game last game, but after that, we grew and it got much better as the game went on.”

Training update

Forward Tesho Akindele (hamstring) is still being evaluated and was not present for the media portion of Monday’s trainings session. Akindele came off in the 21st minute of Saturday’s match against the Chicago Fire. Coach James O’Connor, speaking after Saturday’s match, said Akindele had “some kind of a strain.”

Centerback Lamine Sané (calf) was training to the side on Monday.

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