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Cristian Higuita: Orlando City coach James O’Connor is a breath of fresh air

Orlando City midfielder Cristian Higuita (7) heads the ball away from Philadelphia Union forward Fafa Picault (9) at Talen Energy Stadium on April 13. Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

For Orlando City midfield veteran Cristian Higuita, the arrival of James O’Connor has felt like a breath of fresh air.

Higuita, who scored during Sunday’s 4-3 road loss to L.A. Galaxy, told Pro Soccer USA that despite the results not going their way during the past three games, O’Connor’s influence is helping the team play with more confidence.

“Soccer is complicated at times. It’s tough to let go of a coach like Jason Kreis, who I considered a friend. But then comes James, and I see it more than just a benefit but a breath of fresh air,” Higuita said. “After suffering so many losses, we needed fresh air. I don’t know if it warranted a coaching change, but James arrives with a lot of hunger and the team through the last set of games has been wanting to show that same hunger.”

After entering preseason camp unfit and out of form, Higuita worked to get back on track. He has delivered a personal-best season, scoring four of his six career goals with the Lions.

He credits the previous and current coaching staffs for having confidence in him and allowing him to play with more freedom.

“I’ve been feeling in good form, and I embraced the challenge that faced me earlier this year,” Higuita said. “I had to put double the effort to get my body back to form, so I’m just happy the coaching staff has allowed me to get more involved in different aspects of the field.

Right back Scott Sutter, who’s missed a chunk of games this season due to injury, feels like the team is close to turning things around.

“It’s tough to take the positives when you won just one game in the last 13 games,” said Sutter. “When you look at performance-wise, you look at the last four games that we played, our good start against the Galaxy. Against New York City FC, the way we pinned them back in the second half and hit the woodwork four times and even the Columbus [Crew] game, you can definitely take away the positives from the performance we had.”

“We’re still not done and dusted. We just need to turn that corner, it’s not easy but we’re still in a good spot for it and we can just turn these good performances into points, then we definitely have a good shot.”

Sutter returned to the starting lineup last Sunday for the first time since June 30 when Orlando City fell 4-0 to Atlanta United.

A knee injury early in the season saw the defender miss a slew of games. Last month, Sutter suffered an adductor injury and was hospitalized for two nights because of pancreatitis.

After a length period without seeing much action, Sutter said he’s happy to put the injuries behind him.

“For me, it was nice to be back and to be playing again,” Sutter said. “It’s been a tough three or four months, really. A knee and groin injury and to top it off, I even spent two nights at the emergency room with pancreatitis between that. Everything came together at once, which is disappointing, but it makes it nicer to be back on the pitch.”

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