SANFORD, Fla. — After a series of closed-door scrimmages, Orlando City is set to step back into the spotlight.
The Lions are one of four teams featured in the inaugural Orlando City Invitational preseason tournament at Orlando City Stadium. They’ll take on familiar opponent NYCFC at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Minnesota United will play the New England Revolution at 4:30 p.m. Matches will not be streamed online, but they are open to the public, with tickets available for $15. Season ticket holders get tickets with a $5 donation to the Orlando City Foundation. The tournament concludes on Wednesday.
The game will be Orlando City supporters’ first chance to see the new-look Lions, who are in the middle of a massive roster overhaul. Coach James O’Connor has brought in 12 players so far, including current trialists, and the club is in the final stages of negotiations with Sporting CP winger Nani. Since the end of a tough 2018 season, the club has moved on from 15 players.
Saturday’s game won’t be Orlando City’s only scrimmage of the day.
“It’s a great opportunity for the supporters to come out to see us and for us to see our supporters,” O’Connor said. “It’s a great opportunity for the players to get match minutes, but equally, we’ve got a game in the morning against UCF, which will have more match minutes, which no one will speak about.
“That game is just as important because there’s going to be guys that are playing in that game, as there is in the game later on.”
NYCFC is also Orlando City’s first opponent of the 2019 season.
The Lions’ three previous scrimmages this preseason have been closed after 15 minutes of media access. O’Connor has deployed a three-centerback formation to start all three of the team’s scrimmages.
The Lions are 1-1-1 so far in the team’s three preseason scrimmages, with a 1-0 win over Louisville City, a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls and a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union.
“It’s just being very intentional about what we’re trying to do,” O’Connor said. “Stick to the process, understand what we’re trying to do and make sure that the learning is there for the players.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said the team has shown it is open to O’Connor’s instructions throughout the preseason.
“I think the willingness to learn, the willingness to try something new with, maybe, a new formation, and a willingness to be uncomfortable and I think a vulnerability of everybody,” Kljestan said.
He added it’ll be good to get back in front of supporters at Orlando City Stadium.
“That’ll be fun, to play in front of our fans again, to kind of get a couple of dry runs before the season starts and then just to measure yourself as to where you stand,” Kljestan said. “You know, [Tuesday] against Philly, we started very well. The first 30, 35 minutes were very good and then we had a bit of a dropoff.
“Then it’s how do we react to adversity when we give up a goal? How do we react to different things like that? How much can we control a game for 90 minutes, not just for 35 minutes. It’ll be good for a lot of us to play 90 minutes, I think, in some upcoming games and just continue to get to know each other and work on the things that we need to work on before the season starts. But it’s an exciting time.”
Midfielder Cristian Higuita wasn’t present for Friday’s training session. A club spokesperson said Higuita is dealing with a family matter and should return to Orlando City during the weekend.
Left back João Moutinho is day-to-day with a hamstring injury.
Midfielder/centerback Carlos Ascues is day-to-day with a quad injury.
Right back Kyle Smith wasn’t present for the media portion of Friday’s training session. Orlando City hasn’t yet provided an update on Smith’s status.