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Orlando City coach James O’Connor looking forward to molding young roster during preseason

Santiago Patino is selected as the number three overall pick to Orlando City SC in the first round of the 2019 MLS Super Draft at McCormick Place. (Nuccio DiNuzzo-USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — Orlando City coach James O’Connor can’t wait to start preseason training.

The Lions get to work Jan. 21 at IMG Academy in Bradenton – the same place the team went for a week of sessions in the second half of a disastrous 2018 season. O’Connor said the team will be there for about two weeks.

O’Connor has stressed the importance of preseason since his arrival at Orlando City, and with 11 new players – so far – on Orlando City’s roster, O’Connor has his work cut out for him building team chemistry.

“That’s the beauty of how we operate,” O’Connor said at the MLS Superdraft in Chicago after selecting 21-year-old striker Santiago Patiño. “Preseason, it’s have at it, lads. Everyone will come in, everyone will work really hard and the ones who work really hard and do well will be involved with the first team. The ones who don’t, won’t be. It’s really simple.”

The new additions to the roster average 22 years and 10 months old.  So far, Orlando City has jettisoned 13 players from last season’s roster. A club source confirmed to Pro Soccer USA Orlando City is still pursuing 33-year-old Brazilian midfielder Diego Ribas, but no deal has been worked out yet. Ribas remains under contract with his current club, Flamengo.

There are still two rounds left in the MLS draft. Those will take place via conference call on Monday. Finding value in the first two rounds of the draft is difficult enough – it’s even harder to do so in the later rounds.

“I’m really excited for the preseason,” O’Connor said. “To get in and we have a lot of work to do in preseason and it’ll be exciting. We’ve got some hard work ahead of us, but I think with the way we’re headed, we’re excited and we can’t wait for it to start.

“We want competition all over the field. I think that’s something we want to start the season, where we’ve got a lot of competition at not just the forward line, but at all the positions. That’s what I’m saying with preseason. Initially, when you’re meeting players, they all want to know – the younger players, especially – ‘Will I be involved with the first team?’ I keep telling them, ‘Your preseason will dictate that.’”

O’Connor and new executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi have made it clear Orlando City’s is focused on developing players. Muzzi was frustrated Orlando City couldn’t sign Patiño as a Homegrown player and said he’s determined to make sure Orlando City doesn’t miss out on Homegrowns in the future.

Muzzi said Orlando City received offers for the No. 3 pick but refused them in order to secure Patiño. He added he wants to reach out to other players who have come through Orlando City’s development academy and ensure they feel wanted by inviting them to come train with the club.

“We need our guys,” Muzzi said. “We need our local guys. We value [Patiño] a lot more than whatever GAM, TAM, whatever. We need our guys. We need our guys to stay in town.”

O’Connor said drafting Patino made a statement about Orlando City’s future plans.

“I think we want to make sure we send a message to all the other Homegrowns that are in college and that are out there that we are very intentional about trying to develop players and bring players through our system,” O’Connor said.

Offseason additions to Orlando City’s roster

  1. Forward Tesho Akindele, 26
  2. Left back/centerback João Moutinho, 20
  3. Left back Danilo Acosta, 21
  4. Midfielder Jhegson Sebastián Méndez, 21
  5. Goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, 25
  6. Defender Kyle Smith, 26
  7. Forward Benji Michel, 21
  8. Centerbak Alex De John, 27
  9. Striker Santiago Patiño, 21
  10. Centerback Kamal Miller, 21
  11. Midfielder Tommy Madden, 21

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