ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita recently broke back into the starting XI after a long hiatus.
He started against Atlanta United and earned praise from coach James O’Connor and his teammates. The Colombian midfielder got his second start of the season Sunday during Orlando City’s 5-1 win over expansion side FC Cincinnati.
Higuita played 78 minutes and completed 90 percent of his 66 passes. He had a team-high four tackles and he won two fouls. He was also second on the team with 86 touches.
“Listen, Cristian’s a very talented player,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had to work on a few things first to try to make sure there’s good understanding … but since he’s come into the team, he’s been excellent. I think when you look at his quality of play in both the games, he’s been very good.
“The challenge for Cristian is he needs to maintain that. I think the big thing that we want to drive is that you earn your place in the team. Once you get in the team, it’s down to you to stay in the team. That’s what we’re trying to drive here. Whether it’s Cristian or whoever it is, once you get into the team, stay in the team. And your performance level will dictate that.”
Praise for the supporters
O’Connor has been quick to laud Orlando City’s supporters after every match this season. He did do so again after the Lions’ win on Sunday.
“I don’t want the supporters to think we take them for granted,” O’Connor said. “We don’t. We really value their support and the way they stuck with the guys today and really helped us throughout the second half I thought was exceptional.”
The announced attendance on Sunday was 22,341, slightly more than the club’s all-time announced low at Orlando City Stadium (22,337 last season for the Lions’ match against the Portland Timbers).
Still, there were obvious gaps in the stands. Attendance in MLS – and most leagues in the United States – is announced in terms of tickets sold, not people in seats.
“I just want to say, the fans, they deserved that,” forward Tesho Akindele said of the win. “They come out all the time. They’re supporting us. They’re making noise. I’m so glad we could give them that win, and they could experience that feeling with us.”
O’Connor mentioned an old rivalry while explaining why Sunday’s win was important to him. He used to coach Louisville City FC, which shared a fierce rivalry with FC Cincinnati while the two were in the USL.
Louisville City is still in USL Championship (formerly USL), but FC Cincinnati is in its first season in MLS. O’Connor mentioned Louisville City chairman John Neace, team president Brad Estes and the supporters of his former club during his postgame remarks.
“On a personal level, it’s exceptionally nice for that to happen against Cincinnati,” O’Connor said.