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Orlando City returns to action against FC Dallas while James O’Connor continues to assess his squad

Orlando City SC defender Lamine Sane (22) and Houston Dynamo forward Ronaldo Pena (21) fight to control the ball during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City wanted to get right back to playing games after a 0-0 draw with the Houston Dynamo two weeks ago.

Instead, the Lions, after holding an opponent scoreless for just the second time this season, had last week off.  

Coach James O’Connor said he and his staff used the time to continue assessing what last-place Orlando City (7-18-4, 25 points) needs for the 2019 season, but after feeling “a little unlucky not to win” against the Dynamo, the group was feeling desperate to play games.

O’Connor said he wants to see his side put together a strong performance against the No. 1 team in the Western Conference. FC Dallas (15-6-9, 54 points) is unbeaten in its last four matches and Orlando City has never scored a goal against Dallas (three meetings all-time).

The two teams meet at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. 

“It’s trying to make sure we maintain and build off the performances we had against Houston,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said some players have a good understanding of what he’s been trying to implement since his arrival in the middle of the season. Others don’t. As the season winds down, O’Connor has tinkered with lineups and given different players looks in different roles, at times drawing criticism for who is on the pitch. 

 “I think some have, I would say, a good understanding of what we want,” O’Connor said.

“I think some maybe have a decent understanding and some have a lot to do. It’s like everything. You always have three facets. You have people that really understand, some that are maybe in between and some that are still struggling to get a real grip and understanding of what we’re expecting.”

Orlando City has five matches left in the season.

The Lions still aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention despite just one win in their last 20 matches. O’Connor is 1-8-3 (6 points) at the helm of Orlando City.

“I think for James right now and for our group, it’s getting to see guys in real action where things are on the line and you can evaluate much better than you can in a preseason game,” Lions midfielder Will Johnson said. “You can see which guys are capable of executing his ideas and which ones he thinks can help him as we continue to go forward.

“But, at the same time, it’s obviously not ideal because not everything’s going to be perfect right off the bat. You need time to implement ideas and systems, formations and that kind of thing. So we’ve taken a fair bit of punishment and criticism and all the things that come with losing games, which obviously hurts confidence and knocks guys down a little bit in terms of what they’re willing to try and what they’re willing to do.”

Plus, after Saturday’s match, the Lions will be shorthanded for a while again. Star midfielder Yoshimar Yotún, left back/winger Mohamed El-Munir and centerback Amro Tarek all leave for international duty after Orlando City plays FC Dallas. They’ll miss at least two matches after Saturday.

Losing players to international duty and injuries has been a constant problem for Orlando City this season. The Lions have injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s match. Centerback Jonathan Spector has missed training sessions with back tightness, midfielder Uri Rosell has been training to the side with an ankle injury.

Centerback Lamine Sané, who played in his first match since June 30 when City played the Dynamo, said injuries have derailed Orlando City’s season.

“I think, when Jason was here, I didn’t play,” Sané said. “Dom [Dwyer], also. Every week, one player was injured. You know, when you don’t have your best team, it’s difficult to play. Of course, there’s a lot of players. They can play, but it’s not like if you have your good team to play all the season.”

Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who had three saves in his MLS debut against the Dynamo, hasn’t been present for the media portions of training. O’Connor said he’s dealing with an infection.

Orlando City is trying to avoid setting a new record for goals conceded in a single MLS season. The Lions have given up 66 goals so far in league play. The record, set by Minnesota United last season, is 70.

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