Orlando City coach James O’Connor is pleased with the progress of his mostly new team with the group roughly half a month away from the start of the regular season.
He’s watched his team go through a trio of closed-door scrimmages, two against MLS competition and one against his old club, Louisville City, and said all three friendlies represented opportunities for his side to grasp the principles he’s tried to instill during his first preseason with the club.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win,” he said. “Listen, if we say, ‘Here, we’re going to go to the training field; I’m going to want to beat you and get there first.’ Naturally, you’re always going to want to win.
“I think where you’re going to want to manage expectations is: ‘Is winning in preseason important, or is it more important to get match-load minutes and game understanding as regards to attacking and defensive principles?’ That’s where you really need to pay attention to, ‘OK, for what we’re trying to teach, what is the level of learning?’ That’s something that we’re going through.
“For us, we’ve been through a good few years now, so we have an indication as to what people are understanding, areas that they’re fully on board with and other areas that need work. It’s more a case of making sure that individual understands the specifics of the role that we’re asking them to do.”
The Lions are 1-1-1 through three preseason training scrimmages, with a 1-0 win over Louisville City, a 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls and a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union – all three scrimmages were behind closed doors after 15 minutes of media access during each scrimmage.
Orlando City is working with 12 new players, and 15 players from last season’s team are gone.
Speaking specifically about the scrimmage against the Union, which took place at ChampionsGate and included an additional 30 minutes after 90 minutes were played, O’Connor said the team’s start was solid. So far, Orlando City has scored first in all of its preseason matches.
“We’ve got passages,” O’Connor said. “There’s one passage [against Philadelphia] where we’re keeping the ball for two and a half minutes. I think there’s 14 passes in the buildup to the goal. The first 30-odd minutes, there’s some really great, positive aspects. There’s other aspects that we look at and, OK, there’s things that we stop doing that we need to be sharper at and we need to realize.”
O’Connor – who has stressed building his team through grueling preseason training – said at this point, the coaching staff is working on pushing the players through fatigue.
“The preseason, for us, is very, very tough,” he said. “For the players, it’s very demanding. You need to realize, we need to realize, as a coaching staff, there’s going to be concentration errors. There’s going to be mistakes that are made because they are fatigued. That’s what we need to try to train.
“We need to get the level in preseason that it’s very, very high, that they have an ability, once the season starts, to deal with fatigue and to push through it. Then, the fitter you are, the harder it is to make poor decisions. That’s what we’re going through.”
Orlando City’s season kicks off March 2 against NYCFC, but the Lions have two preseason friendlies that are open to the public with the upcoming Orlando City Invitational. The team’s first match, 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, is against NYCFC.
The team will also play a closed-door scrimmage at UCF earlier in the day.
“I think from a fitness perspective, I think from a learning perspective, I think there’s going to be areas, like we’ve spoke about, that we’re happy with,” O’Connor said. “Other areas that you look at and you go, ‘God, we need more work there.’
“I think, if you were to say to me at the start of the season, so many weeks in, this is the area that we’re going to be at, I’d [say], ‘Yeah. Great. Perfect. That’s really, really great.’ Because we still have two and a half weeks before we start the season. Again, perspective, understanding and managing, probably, our own expectations becomes important.”