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Orlando City coach James O’Connor: It’s only going to get more demanding as we move on

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)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City coach James O’Connor has frequently spoken about the team’s mentality and his approach to creating a winning culture.

With the Lions’ season winding down, midfielder Sacha Kljestan said team needs more guys who are “willing to lay everything down and give everything they have to be a winning player.”

Speaking to reporters before Wednesday’s training session, O’Connor agreed.

“For sure, I think that’s very accurate,” O’Connor said of Kljestan’s comments.

“I think that’s something we’ve been aware of since we’ve come in. We speak a lot about mentality. I think the importance of a strong mentality… I think you look at any successful sports team or sports individual would have a very strong mentality and that’s something that, as we move forward… I would say implementing change in that area. Trying to make sure that we have a stronger mentality.”

Orlando City (7-17-3, 24 points) takes on the Chicago Fire (6-15-6, 24 points) on the road on Sunday. A loss would put the Lions at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.

O’Connor said he’s created a demanding environment that’s only going to get more demanding as time goes on. He added he’s looking at himself before judging the players, but he’s looking at who can cope. 

“There’s a few of the guys that have got good understanding of what expectations are,” he said. “There’s a few that we think, he understands what’s required in training. He understands, in the game, what’s needed. He’s got a great attitude. He’s got a burning desire to win and when you don’t win, it really, really hurts.

“I think some individuals, it hurts more than most. For me as an individual it really hurts when you don’t win.”

Veteran midfielder Will Johnson said when it comes to players who are “just happy to be here,” as Kljestan put it, there isn’t much to be done about them this late in the season. He said it’s not necessarily complacency, but that some players have gotten confused and “stuck” with so many losses and the changes that come with mid-season coaching shifts. 

He added he’s confident the players who don’t reflect the culture O’Connor is trying to instill will be quickly jettisoned. 

“That’s usually the point of no return, when guys are acting like that,” Johnson said regarding players who are “just happy to be here.”

“I think it’s important not to get too caught up in the negativity of different guys and agendas. I think James is very smart. He has a very good intuition on guys and why they’re here and what they put into this project and what they believe, so I think that over time he will weed those guys out.

“As players and teammates, we continue to try to push things forward. The guys who are on board will be here and continue to put in a shift and the guys who are the ones that you speak of, with these different characteristics that hold teams back, are obviously guys that James will weed out very quickly.”

O’Connor said he’s been “very intentional” about giving players looks during his short time as head coach of the team. He reiterated that he’s doing a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure the club has a foundation for future success.

Part of that work is in making sure players are all on the same page when it comes to the club’s culture and mentality. 

“I think, at this point, there’s only really [midfielder] Richie Laryea that hasn’t had real minutes,” he said. “I think, when you look, most will have had some element of minutes. I think what I said from the onset was when I came in, that I was going to look and assess everybody. I feel as if we’ve done that. There’s some that maybe need a few more minutes between now and the end of the season, which they’ll get.

“I think that the biggest thing for me is making sure you assess the playing staff. Make sure you assess the playing squad, if you like, but then also the technical staff and make sure that you do an overview of where we are as a football club, what’s needed, and then try to make sure then that you create a roadmap that will allow for success.”

Player updates

Rookie midfielder Cam Lindley returned to training on Wednesday, but he did not participate in the 15 minutes that were open to members of the media. O’Connor said Lindley is battling an infection.

Holding midfielder Uri Rosell was to the side Laryea was training inside. A club spokesperson said both players were on separate training schedules.

Chris Schuler (groin) and Lamine Sané (quad) both participated in the first 15 minutes of training.

Left back/winger Mohamed El-Munir wasn’t present for Wednesday’s training session – he was returning from his time with the Libyan national team. Both Yoshimar Yotún and Amro Tarek have returned from international duty.

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