Orlando City realizes it cannot get itself into a hole Wednesday night as the team hosts New England in a Round of 16 match during the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.
“They’ll definitely pose a challenge to us,” Orlando City midfielder Sacha Kljestan said of New England prior to a training session Tuesday morning. “In the MLS, if you take things lightly or your mentality drops, it can be tough to get yourself out of a hole, so we don’t want to get into a hole against New England.”
Back in February, the Lions (5-7-3, 18 points) defeated the Revolution 6-2 during a friendly. New England, however, has turned things around since then after making a coaching change and turning the club over to new coach Bruce Arena.
Kljestan, who has played under Arena, said the new coach has “simplified the game” for the Revolution.
“New England has always had some pretty good attacking players,” Kljestan said. “I think they’ve got some talent, some guys in the attack and I think what Bruce has done has brought some organization to the defensive part of the game for them.”
The Revolution (4-4-8, 16 points) have won two and drawn two games since Arena was brought on as head coach, most recently defeating New York Red Bulls 3-2 during their fourth round Cup matchup. Before then, New England had lost four of its six games.
Orlando City head coach James O’Connor is fully aware of the recent turnaround.
“They’ve had some good results,” O’Connor said. “[They] just seem to be playing with a little more confidence, a little more belief and very organized. For us, it’s going to be a tough game. There’s a number of factors that we need to be aware of.”
The Lions also seem to be gaining momentum, winning three of their past five games. O’Connor said a win over New England would be another important milestone for the club.
“At this stage, I think everyone really knows how desperate we are to win, whether it’s a Cup game or a league game,” O’Connor said.
Should the Lions finish on top, Orlando City would host the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals for the first time in its history and would face the winner of D.C. United versus NYCFC on July 10. In 2018, Orlando City lost 1-0 in the quarterfinals to eventual U.S. Open Cup champion, Philadelphia Union.
“We know that in a knockout tournament things are a little bit different,” Kljestan said. “Some of the reminders that I have for the team that red cards and things like that really kill you in a tournament like this. It’s hard to advance when you go down a man in a knockout tournament, so that part is important.”
Kljestan said home-field advantage can help spur a strong run through the tournament. The Lions have never won any championships at the MLS level and the players know the U.S. Open Cup is their easiest and quickest path to a trophy.
“The Open Cup is a special tournament, you only to win five games and you can become a champion and put yourself in the Champions League, things like that,” he said. “We’re taking it [the Cup] very seriously and things have been very good this week.”
It will also be the first match for the Lions since the naming rights of its stadium, now called Exploria Stadium, were sold.
“Winning on the road is just harder in the states, in MLS,” Kljestan said. “We’re very happy to be playing at home in front of our fans and we need to take advantage of that. It doesn’t have to be a beautiful game. I think we’re prepared for anything.”