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Orlando City focused on building culture during preseason training at IMG Academy

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor enters the field prior to a game against the Philadelphia Union at Orlando City Stadium. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

BRADENTON, Fla. — Orlando City isn’t interested in discussing last season anymore. 

The Lions are in Bradenton for preseason training at IMG Academy — something coach James O’Connor has been waiting for since the end of last season’s tumultuous campaign. The team had medical exams Sunday and on Monday got to work building the culture O’Connor has envisioned since joining the club in the middle of 2018.

“I think togetherness,” O’Connor said about the culture he wants to build. “I think that’s probably the biggest factor. I think then, obviously, there’s so many factors off that. We spent a lot of time sort of speaking about the culture we want to create. Showing instances and examples of what are the expected behaviors we’re looking for. 

“We expect high, intense work from individuals and then, collectively supporting each other and making sure that we finish preseason in a really strong position.” 

The majority of the team rode down to Bradenton together on a bus from Sylvan Lake Park. The Lions are staying as a group on IMG Academy’s campus and won’t return to Orlando until Feb. 3. The Lions will play one preseason match while in Bradenton. It’ll be on Feb. 2 against the New York Red Bulls. 

“Look, if you’re having breakfast together at 6:30 [a.m.] like we are, if we’re doing that and we’re doing it in Orlando then guys are getting up at different times and traveling different distances,” O’Connor said. “This way, we can control the environment. I think it’s important that when you’re training as hard as the players are going to be, the food, the rest the recovery and the environment is controlled. That gives us an opportunity, by coming here, to control all those aspects.” 

Orlando City has made a host of roster moves ahead of the 2019 season, and O’Connor said there’s “a couple of pieces” he’d still like to add. So far, 14 players from last season’s roster are gone and 13 players have been added, including the team’s draft picks. 

“We’re excited,” he said. “I think we’ve got some good players. I think the biggest thing is to try to make sure that we build a culture and that we get some real work done. I think we’ve come here, again, early-morning sessions, there’s a lot work we want to get done here.

“I think, for us, we’re sort of striving to be successful. I think, obviously, there’s a couple of pieces we want to try to add. Our intention is to make sure we are successful next year.” 

The Lions had a morning fitness session and then had an afternoon training session scheduled. O’Connor, who spoke after the first training session, said everyone — including the team’s four draft picks — has reported to preseason training and he was pleased with the intensity of the morning session. 

“I think there will be some niggling injuries now after what we’ve just done,” O’Connor said with a laugh. “It’s preseason, some days guys are going to be able to go, some days they’ll feel a little bit stiff, a little bit sore, so we’ll wait and see.”

Second-year winger Chris Mueller said he’s excited about the culture O’Connor wants to build. Mueller was a standout player as a rookie, despite a rough season for Orlando City, starting 23 matches for the Lions. 

“I don’t really want to talk anymore about last season,” he said. “It’s been long enough to be able to forget about it and I think [we’re] looking forward to this season, and I think it’s going to be a good season, for sure.

“It’s an honest, humble, hardworking team. I think those are the small things that we’re trying to instill and ingrain in who we are as a team and that’s what we want to continue to build for and just kind of engrave into the culture here.” 

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