ORLANDO, Fla. — With Orlando City’s sixth season in MLS a few weeks away, fans are facing a question — is it worth it to get their hopes up again?
The hype surrounding the season leaves plenty for fans to feel hopeful about — including the addition of high-caliber players such as goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and the arrival of new coach Óscar Pareja. But after five consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, fans have voiced their fear in allowing hope to bubble up again ahead of the new season.
Pareja said regardless of their preseason outlook, fans will be excited once they see his team’s first match at the end of the month. In the meantime, he said he’s not worried about adjusting anyone’s expectations.
“You can think that everything will come wrong again or you can choose to think that things will be right,” Pareja said. “That’s an election and at this point, there is nothing that I can do to any that will change that. The people and the fans can elect right now … do you expect your day to be good or do you expect your day to be wrong? Do you expect to win the test or to lose it?”
Pareja described this as a human decision, similar to the choice of whether to let bad weather or heavy traffic affect the mood of the rest of the day.
The coach chooses to take an optimistic approach toward his new team, regardless of how the Lions have performed in the past.
He encouraged Orlando City fans to do the same as they face the 2020 season.
“Right now, the people who support Orlando City will choose,” Pareja said. “Do you hope for the good or do you hope for the bad? We’re not going to say anything that can change those sensations. Players, owners, administrators, directors, coaches, we are compromising to make things different and to give all our efforts to change the story of the club. I choose already and every morning just to think that everything comes right.”
Green card delays
After starting in 28 of 32 games for the Lions in 2019, centerback Robin Jansson sat out the first two home preseason matches of the year, raising concerns for fans about his role under Pareja.
His absence, however, didn’t stem from fitness or tactical concerns. It was all due to immigration paperwork.
Jansson had already arrived late to the first week of preseason training due to delays in the process of securing his green card, missing the first two days of camp. Further issues with his immigration status forced the defender to return to Sweden midway through the team’s workouts in Cancún.
Without the same amount of training time as his fellow defensive teammates, Pareja held Jansson to the bench for the initial preseason games to avoid risking any injury. The centerback flew from Mexico to Sweden and back to Orlando during the course of four days, a period which took its toll on his body and ability to train.
Jansson’s green card is now fully processed, freeing up an international space on the roster. With more training time with the team, he hopes to return to his starting role by the season opener.
“It’s a new coach, so you always have to show on the field, but my goal is to play every game and help the team to succeed,” Jansson said. “I’m feeling quite good, it’s just the muscles get so sore. … But, now the green card is in, so I’m ready to go.”
The team’s free time has been scant since the start of preseason, but several of the Lions’ newest additions noted they have already been recognized and approached by fans when they venture out into the city. Gallese was stopped by several fans at the mall and the grocery store, with the supporters passing along their encouragement for the upcoming season.
Midfielder Júnior Urso took a trip to Disney World during the team’s rest day following their first preseason match. While in the park, he also met a fan who immediately congratulated him on his performance in the scrimmage the night before.
When speaking about the Orlando City supporters, Urso made a point to switch from Portuguese to English in order to convey his feelings in the fans’ native language.
“For me, it’s amazing,” Urso said. “I like that, I want to be close with the fans. I hope we can make a good season with the fans because they are our 12th player. We need them.”