SANFORD, Fla. — Those waiting for Orlando City’s star designated players to be in the team’s starting XI on match day might have to wait a bit longer.
Striker Dom Dwyer and winger Nani came on in the second half Saturday’s 2-2 draw with NYCFC and immediately impacted the match. The two combined to set up forward Tesho Akindele’s match-tying goal and nearly linked up again for a go-ahead goal.
Despite the impact the two players have on the pitch, coach James O’Connor said he’s looking to responsibly manage the two players, “which is difficult, because everybody wants them to play.”
Nani returned to Orlando the day before Saturday’s match after getting paperwork sorted and Dwyer only recently returned to full training after dealing with a quad injury in preseason.
“We’re still trying to look through that,” O’Connor said before training on Wednesday. “Look, nobody wants Dom and Nani with the team more than anybody here. I think we just need to be sensible with it. Nani got back – he obviously had to fly to Toronto – he got back Friday morning. He was getting to be at, like, 4 o’clock.
“There’s loads of factors that people don’t fully understand. He’s obviously managing his recovery. Similar with Dom. Dom’s not played any minutes throughout the course of preseason. The risk for us is that we start the two lads and then all of the sudden we get injured. They get an injury and that’s a bigger problem for us.”
Both players came on to standing ovations from an announced crowd of 25,527 at Orlando City Stadium.
“Obviously Dom is a well-known guy in our league,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who was the team’s captain on Saturday. “I think that a lot of teams have respect for him as a player, which is a good thing. So, he was able to come in with his energy and set up a goal.
“Nani, I think, showed his class that he has on the ball. I think every time he touched the ball, people stood up in their seats. Even the New York City defenders, I think, became a little bit more nervous. Having those guys come off the bench was a really big factor in the game against New York.”
The Lions (0-0-1, 1 point) take on the Chicago Fire (0-1-0, 0 points) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Orlando City is also managing a few other players who are coming back from injuries. Centerback Lamine Sané is week-to-week with a calf injury. Centerback/defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues wasn’t present for the media portion of Wednesday’s training session, but he’s expected to return on Thursday.
Right back Ruan (quad) has been training with the club recently after working separately for a few sessions during preseason training. Left back João Moutinho (hamstring) has also been training with the team.
“We’ve got some guys we just need to manage and be mindful of their load,” O’Connor said. “Just to make sure that we minimize injury risk. Part of that is managing the load and understanding the individual, because all the players are individuals.
“We need to make sure, how are they feeling? Where are they at physically? That’s something that is a daily sort of progress for Lamine and for a few of the other guys, to be honest with you.”
Hand ball decision
O’Connor said he was encouraged by his team’s play against New York City FC. The Lions nearly had a chance to win the match late, but were left frustrated after a controversial no-call on a potential hand ball in the penalty area.
Chris Mueller sent a cross to Dwyer at the back post, and Dwyer headed the ball down in front of the goal. The ball appeared to bounce off NYCFC centerback Maxime Chanot’s arm, and referee Baldomero Toledo reviewed the play, but no penalty was called.
The no-call was something O’Connor took a more definitive stance on Wednesday afternoon. During his post-match press conference, O’Connor said he couldn’t see the play.
“I think for us, we were very unfortunate not to go and win the game,” O’Connor said on Wednesday. “Obviously, I’d hadn’t seen the referee’s call before… thankfully, to be honest with you, I hadn’t.”
When pressed, O’Connor said, “Yeah, it’s safe to say I think that was a handball. But, look, we don’t want to get into that.”