SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City hits Mercedes-Benz Stadium with an eye on snapping a slump.
The Lions have struggled to score recently. During the four matches since Orlando City rallied to beat the Colorado Rapids 4-3 at the start of April, the Lions have scored just three goals. Orlando City is 1-2-1 (4 points) in that span.
The Lions (3-4-3, 12 points) were shut out in their last match.
Part of the slump has coincided with a scoring drought for star striker Dom Dwyer. He hasn’t scored a goal in five matches. He’s taken 15 shots, five of which have been on target, during that span.
Orlando City’s other goal scorers have struggled lately. In fact, the only player who has scored for the Lions since that April 6 match against Colorado has been Nani. The star designated player benefited from a shot from Sacha Kljestan that bounced off him and in against Vancouver, but he’s the one who registered the goal.
“I think the thing for us is, whether it’s Dom or whoever it is, if somebody doesn’t score in a particular game, people want to [say], you know, he hasn’t scored or he hasn’t done this, but we have every confidence in Dom, Tesho [Akindele], Nani, Chris Mueller. We feel as if we’ve created a good amount of chances in games,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said.
O’Connor added with the team heading into a tough stretch of matches – Atlanta United on Sunday, then the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday – players need to clearly understand their roles and the principles he’s preached since preseason training.
Turning things around during Sunday’s match against Atlanta United (4-3-2, 14 points), which will be broadcast on Fox, might prove difficult. Orlando City has scored multiple goals against Atlanta United just once since the rivalry between the two sides began in 2017. The two sides play at 2:30 p.m. in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s a rivalry game, so in that sense, that’s always in the back of our minds that it’s a big game and these sort of derby games are ones that you always want to win,” Mueller said. “You don’t want to give anything away, so we’re looking forward to going and trying to get the win.”
The roles of individual players have changed as the season as gone on. For example, midfielder Kljestan, once a regular starter, has come off the bench in each of the team’s last three matches.
O’Connor has tinkered with his lineup all season but has recently found some consistency in the middle of the pitch. He’s gone with the trio of Sebas Méndez, Uri Rosell and Will Johnson in a 4-3-3 formation. Even the backline has been consistent, with Ruan, Lamine Sané, Robin Jansson and João Moutinho making up the back four.
Even though he’s come off the bench, Kljestan has still played in each of the last three matches.
“Throughout the course of the season, I think all the guys realize there’s going to be periods where you start, there’ll be periods where you have a rest on the bench and there’ll be some guys that have a period where they’re not involved in the 18,” O’Connor said. “It’s part of professional soccer. Sacha’s been the ultimate professional. There’s no issues.
“Whatever we need from Sacha, whatever we need from Dom or Nani, they’re all very open to whatever’s needed for the team, which is exactly how we expect it to be. If you start the game or you come off the bench, your attitude and your application need the be the exact same. Nothing should change and that’s how it’s been with all the guys. It’s been really good.”
The only place where there hasn’t been consistency in O’Connor’s 4-3-3 has been up top. The first time he deployed the lineup against Vancouver, Mueller, Dwyer and Nani were up top to start. Nani, Akindele and Mueller were the starting forwards against NYCFC. Akindele, Dwyer and Nani were the starters against Toronto FC.
“The biggest thing for us is our belief doesn’t waver in the players whether somebody scores or doesn’t score,” O’Connor said. “For us, our belief is always there with the players. Whether somebody scores in a game or misses a chance or doesn’t score in a game, for us, you know, our belief in the players doesn’t fluctuate by game.”
Orlando City at Atlanta United, 2:30
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
The buzz: Orlando City (3-4-3, 12 points) is looking for its first win over rival Atlanta United (4-3-2, 14 points). Orlando City is 0-4-2 (2 points) all-time against the Five Stripes. … Centerback/defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues is questionable for the match and was held out of training as recently as Saturday. … Centerback Alex De John (hamstring) was training with the team Saturday. … George Bello, Kevin Kratz, Mikey Ambrose and Brandon Vazquez are all out for the Five Stripes due to various injuries. … Atlanta United has won three consecutive matches after a 1-3-2 start, shutting out Toronto FC, Sporting KC and the Colorado Rapids during its win streak. … Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals, has left for Argentina’s U-20 national team and will miss the match. … New acquisition Justin Meram, who used to play for Orlando City, will be available for selection.