SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City coach James O’Connor insisted a home loss against the Montreal Impact two weeks ago was an aberration and not representative of what the Lions were building toward.
The team responded with a road win over the New York Red Bulls.
This weekend, instead of trying to bounce back from a bad loss, the Lions (1-1-2, 5 points) are working to build on their first road win in nearly a calendar year. Orlando City hosts D.C. United (2-0-1, 7 points) at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. The match will be broadcast nationally on FS1.
“I think, for us, we’ve been really pleased with – go back to preseason – the intensity throughout preseason, the quality that we’ve shown in games. … I said after the game [against the Red Bulls], the one sort of blip was Montreal,” O’Connor said. “I think, taking that out of it, I think we’ve been really pleased with the group and the levels they’ve been able to hit.”
O’Connor said the team’s level of commitment against the Red Bulls was “excellent.”
“We’ve got great confidence [in] ourselves on the back of beating New York. I mean, there’s not too many teams that will go and beat New York in New York. Again, for us, we feel as if we’re in a good spot. We just need to make sure now that we maintain the level of intensity in training and perform well on Sunday.”
Centerback Shane O’Neill called the win over the Red Bulls a “deserved” moment for the team.
Still, including Sunday’s match, there are 30 games left this year.
“When you look at the schedule, it’s just one win and it’s a long, long season ahead,” he said. “I think, in terms of the defensive performance I think we can look at it and be happy with it. I think we took a lot less risks, which was really important. There’s been a lot of lessons learned the first the first four games of the season, that’s for sure.”
D.C. United hasn’t conceded a goal this season. The Black and Red are the only team in the league that hasn’t given up a goal yet.
“They’ve obviously started the season very well,” O’Connor said. “We’ve watched their games. They’re very disciplined, very organized. You can see there’s a clear philosophy of how to attack and how to defend. So again, credit to them, they’ve had a good start to the season. For us, we understand it’s going to be a tough game, but we want to try to cause them problems.”
D.C. United is led by superstar Wayne Rooney. He’s scored three goals this season, with all three converted during a victory over a nine-man Real Salt Lake side. He also has two assists during three games this season.
“He’s at the end of his career, but he still plays like a young player if you look at his intensity,” O’Connor said. “You look at his enthusiasm, he’s running all over the field. Even in the [NYCFC] game he’s taking a free kick in the New York game and he’s back tackling in the penalty box.
“When you look at his enthusiasm, you have great admiration for not just his quality, but when you look at his work ethic, I think that’s probably the biggest thing people don’t pay enough attention to. Even now, you look at the man’s work ethic, his enthusiasm, he’s all over the field.”
Outside of Rooney, the Lions will have to contend with Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, who are potent attacking threats.
“They’re dangerous going forward,” Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe said. “They’ve got players that connect, that can score, get opportunities, so I think we’re sticking with our game plan, what’s worked for us so far and building on top of that. I think, defensively, we’ve done really well. It’s just kind of continuing to do what we’ve been working on.
Orlando City hasn’t won a match at home this season.
“They’re coming into our stadium where we don’t have a win yet, so I think we want to give our fans something to be excited about,” Rowe said. “National television, of course, helps just put this team and kind of what we’re working on, hopefully, on the map.”
Orlando City vs D.C United, 6:30
Where: Orlando City Stadium
The Buzz: Orlando City (1-1-2, 5 points) hosts D.C. United (2-0-1, 7 points) and is looking to string together back-to-back wins for the first time during coach James O’Connor’s tenure with the Lions. … Orlando City will be without centerback Alex De John (hamstring). … Centerback Lamine Sané (calf), midfielder Will Johnson (concussion) and forward Tesho Akindele (hamstring) were all present for training this week, though O’Connor said Akindele was only doing warm-ups. … Midfielder Sebas Méndez also returned to training this week after his call-up to Ecuador’s men’s national team. … Star striker Dom Dwyer leads Orlando City with two goals and two assists in four matches. … D.C. United was off last week. … United is the only team in MLS that hasn’t conceded a goal so far this season. … Wayne Rooney leads D.C. with three goals. … Four other players, including Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, have scored at least one goal for United.