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Orlando City coach James O’Connor: Commitment in offseason, preseason will be key

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor (right) high fives fans after defeating the Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City coach James O’Connor has said multiple times preseason training will be an important factor for the 2019 season, but he has been reticent to say exactly what issues are plaguing his locker room.

After Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew – Orlando City’s first victory since July 14 – O’Connor offered a bit more insight into what he’s seen this season, as well as why it’s taken so long for the Lions to deliver a full 90-minute performance.

“I think there’s multiple reasons,” O’Connor said. “I think, I first have to look at myself. The expectations that I have for myself are very, very high. I take a look at my messaging. I take a look at some of the individuals and I think then, again, the collective understanding. There’s multiple factors but, for me, I’ve very well aware of what’s gone on and what needs to happen.

“I think I’m a little bit old-fashioned insomuch that I believe what happens in the changing room needs to stay in the changing room. I think there needs to be an element of respect shown to everybody. But make no bones about it, I know what’s gone on and I know what’s needed and I have every intention of making sure that we get what we all want.”

So, the issues are there. O’Connor just isn’t airing them out in the court of public opinion.  

O’Connor has gone 2-11-3 in league play so far as Orlando City’s coach since he was hired midseason and fans have demanded answers. Orlando City’s effort over the last few weeks has been questioned, and O’Connor said there’s going to be a commitment in both the offseason and in preseason training.

“We’ve got one more game left against New York [Red Bulls] and then that’s when we get our head down and we start putting them through,” O’Connor said. “I think preseason becomes especially important for us. I think that the level of intensity in our preseason is something that people will probably have to get used to so then offseason training becomes especially important to make sure you’re ready for preseason.

“I’ve said it multiple times, preseason is the most important part of the year. You missed out on preseason, we have multiple players who missed preseason, it affects your performance through the season. So, we need to make sure in the offseason our players are picking the program and they commit to that program. And then in preseason they get their head down and they go after it.”

That commitment is what O’Connor hopes draws fans back to Orlando City Stadium in 2019. The club announced 23,642 tickets were sold and distributed for Sunday’s match, but it was clear there weren’t that many people in attendance. A club official confirmed Orlando City has a season ticket base of roughly 19,000.

Club officials confirmed to Pro Soccer USA season ticket renewals are usually at around 92 percent for Orlando City. They expect a similar percentage of renewals this season, “and higher than the league average of 87 percent.”

The fans that were in attendance on Sunday provided their usual chants and cheers, but there were gaps in the stands throughout the match.

“I think, for the fans that were here, I think that’s why it was so important that we play with that level of grit, that level of commitment,” O’Connor said. “I think people can accept when you don’t play well, you made a mistake.

“I think the minimum expectation is hard work and that level of commitment and I think that’s something that going forward, that’s something that we’re going to see. So, for the ones that were here, massive thank you. We really appreciate all of your support. And, for the ones that didn’t come, my hope is that you come back, and you give us a chance and we can prove to you next year just how serious we are on where we want to go.”

Dwyer’s jersey sells

Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer has the No. 19 best-selling jersey in MLS, according to a list released Monday by the league.

Dwyer is Orlando City’s top goal scorer (11thin MLS), with 13 goals in 25 appearances (24 starts) this season for the Lions. When Orlando City (8-21-4, 28 points) has been successful, Dwyer has been an integral component of that success. The Lions are 6-4-2 (20 points) in matches where Dwyer scores a goal and 2-17-2 (8 points) when he doesn’t score or doesn’t play.

Dwyer is the only Orlando City player represented in the top 25.

Yotún makes Team of the Week

Midfielder Yoshi Yotún was named to the MLS Team of the Week starting XI for his performance against the Columbus Crew.

Yotún created six chances against the Crew and his passing accuracy for the match was 91.4 percent. He converted a penalty kick in the 57thminute to level the match at 1-1.

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