SANFORD, Fla. — The month of May has not been kind to Orlando City since the club joined Major League Soccer.
Since the Lions’ first MLS season in 2015, they are 4-9-8 (20 points) in 21 league matches played in May. The start of the warmer months in Florida has consistently marked a dip in form for Orlando City, but head coach James O’Connor, who is in first full season leading the club, isn’t concerned about past trends.
“No interest in what’s happened here previously in May,” O’Connor said Wednesday morning. “Literally hasn’t even come into my mindset. We’re focused on Toronto. We feel as if the training this week has been really good. We had a great day yesterday. Great intensity. Yeah, my focus is getting ready for Toronto.”
Orlando City (3-3-3, 12 points) has a hefty test for its first match of May. The Lions host Toronto FC (4-2-1, 13 points) on Saturday.
The team’s struggles during the hotter months in Florida have been well documented. In 2017, former assistant coach Bobby Murphy said players typically lose five to seven pounds during a single summer training session. Putting that weight back on is difficult, Murphy said at the time.
Midfielder Uri Rosell said he already has his eye on the increased heat. He was with the club when the Lions’ descent to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table last season began in May.
“Last year was a tough year, but at the end, I think we’ve got to be ready for the weather, also,” said Rosell, who joined Orlando City last season. “That’s one thing that I didn’t expect when I arrived. Now I can tell that it’s coming, and we’ve got to be more prepared for that.”
Under O’Connor, the Lions have trained in the mornings.
O’Connor, who is known for his intensity, might not want to discuss the team’s previous issues in May and the summer months, but he has already started managing the minutes of certain players. He’s spoken frequently wanting to keep players like Dom Dwyer and Nani healthy.
Brazilian right back Ruan – who was on the receiving end of some hard challenges during Orlando City’s match against NYCFC – was training to the side on Tuesday. He was working with the rest of the team during warm-ups on Wednesday.
“Obviously, he’s played,” O’Connor said. “I think, for us, there’s certain players, we want to manage their training week. For some guys, they’ve had, I would say, days where they’ve been pushed. Other days where, maybe, on an individual basis, their load was particularly high, so we need to manage it.
“For us, individually, you’ll see days where they’re all training together, days where there’s three or four on the side.”
O’Connor credited the club’s medical staff for providing him with the information he needs to manage his players.
“John [Grace is] doing a great job in sports science,” he said. “We’ve got [Isaac Ramos] on the fitness. We’ve got Silas [Waszczuk]. People will always look at me and see me, and I’m fine with that, but, you know, I’m fortunate that we’ve got such a great staff here.
“So, we’ve got a lot of people that are very on point with the heat, the humidity, the nutrition, the load, how they’re feeling medically. There’s such an array of things that go into it. It’s never just one aspect. You have to look at everything across the board and then make the decisions based off all the information, not just one factor.”
Defensive midfielder/centerback Carlos Ascues, who was already recovering from a hamstring injury, recently suffered a quad injury and was not present for Wednesday’s training session. He wasn’t there Monday or Tuesday, either.
“He’s going to be a little bit longer we’d hoped,” O’Connor said.
Centerback Alex De John, who also has been recovering from a hamstring injury, was expected to be involved with Wednesday’s training session.
“Alex looks as if he’s got an ability to involve himself, hopefully, today,” O’Connor said.