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Orlando City coach James O’Connor: Lions aware of importance of Atlanta United match

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor looks on during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City coach James O’Connor is interested in more than just stopping the best attack in MLS.

Rival Atlanta United visits Orlando City Stadium for a Friday match and the Lions (7-15-2, 23 points) are desperate for points. With 10 matches left in the regular season for Orlando City, the playoff window isn’t completely closed, but there’s no wiggle room left.

Getting all three points from the Five Stripes this season has proven a difficult task. Atlanta United leads the Supporters’ Shield race with 51 points and has lost just four matches this season. Orlando City is 0-2-0 in 2018 against United and got hammered 4-0 in the most recent meeting between the two clubs.

“We’ve spent a lot of time sort of going through, but equally, I think we want to try to create some problems for them,” O’Connor said. “I think they’re a great attacking team and they’re having a very strong year, but equally, we’re at home. We want to create a really intimidating atmosphere. I’m sure our supporters will be able to really help us on Friday night.

“We want to cause some problems for them and make them defend, as well.”

Atlanta United comes with the league’s hottest goal scorer in Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez. He has 27 goals so far this season and would break the MLS single-season goals record if he finds the back of the net on Friday.

Martinez has goals in both of Atlanta United’s matches against Orlando City this season.

“I don’t want anyone celebrating any records at our place, for sure,” O’Connor said.

Obviously, Orlando City’s defense – a weakness all season – will be tested throughout the match. The Five Stripes have scored a league-high 53 goals while Orlando City has given up a league-worst 51 goals.

Still, O’Connor said he’s confident the Lions have the players to challenge Atlanta.

He continued, “But again, we need to focus on ourselves. We’ve got good players. We have an ability to hopefully go and cause them some problems. I think that’s the biggest thing for us, especially at home. We want that atmosphere where it’s really intimidating and it’s hard for them to come and play. We want to go and cause as many problems for them as we possibly can.”

The match, which is part of MLS Rivalry Week, will be featured on ESPN. 

“I think you can definitely sense the rivalry,” O’Connor said. “I think even speaking to supporters last week, there’s a real sense from them of what the game means to everybody. We’re well aware of the importance of the game.”

Ascues available

A club spokesperson confirmed new centerback Carlos Ascues will be available for selection on Friday. O’Connor said the team’s new addition is adjusting well, though he’s working to get up to speed.

“It takes time,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, he’s been able to come in, he’s been able to train. He’s still getting used to the level of training. The expectations. We’re managing Carlos and then obviously we’ve got guys coming back from niggles. We’ve still got guys that are out, so we’re trying to manage all of that.”

Player updates

Centerbacks Jonathan Spector (hamstring) and Lamine Sané (quad) on Wednesday participated in the portion of training open to members of the media. So did midfielders Sacha Kljestan (ankle) and Yoshimar Yotún (foot).

Whether Yotún recovers from his injury in time for Friday’s match is irrelevant – he’ll serve the second of a two-match red-card suspension.

Right back RJ Allen, who suffered a concussion during training in the week leading up to the Lions’ match against D.C. United, trained to the side.

O’Connor said evaluating his injured players in an ongoing process.

“Specs has tried to get through training the last few days,” O’Connor said. “Sacha tried to train [Tuesday], didn’t quite make it. We’ve got ongoing ones that maybe we’re still evaluating. Sometimes they feel pain, what level of pain and then are they going to be able to push through. That’s something that we’re looking at.”

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