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Orlando City left back Mohamed El-Munir says Lions have talent, need extra effort to earn elusive wins

New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell (left) and Orlando City defender Mohamed El-Munir battle for the ball during the first half of a match at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City left back Mohamed El-Munir’s past year has been full of changes.

He joined Orlando City – and MLS – from Serbian SuperLiga side Partizan Belgrade. During his first season playing in the U.S., he’s gone through a midseason coaching change and, since that change, has played primarily at a different position.

El-Munir has started just two matches at left back since James O’Connor took over in July and has been used more as a left winger these days. Despite the changes, El-Munir is chugging along and finding success where he can during a tough season for Orlando City.

El-Munir will join Libya’s men’s national team ahead of the group’s 2019 African Cup of Nation’s qualifier against South Africa, which will be played Sept. 8. He’s one of three players who will leave Orlando City to join a national team after the Lions’ home match against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

“I’m happy to go,” he said. “First of all, it’s nice to go and to represent my national team. Second thing, it’s good to see some players, some friends because some players [I haven’t] seen them for a long time. It’s a good opportunity to see them and to know what’s going on with them. I think I’m going to enjoy this time.”

El-Munir said so far, he’s learned some harsh lessons in MLS. Primarily, he’s learned it’s not enough to just want to play well. He said there have been matches this season during which Orlando City (7-16-2, 23 points) was the better side, but it wasn’t enough to get the Lions a win.

“That you want to win is something,” El-Munir said. “That you want to perform [well] is something else.”

Of course, he wants to see the team succeed and understands it takes more effort to win.

“Sometimes, there’s games that we didn’t need to perform, we just needed to go to win, no matter what,” El-Munir said, punching his fist into the palm of his hand when he said “win.”

He added, “We didn’t take it that way. We were just trying to perform [well,] to do what we had to do, and I think the individual decisions, from us as players, weren’t right in some moments. That’s why we’ve had all these bad results in the games.”

The support from Orlando City’s fans has made the difference during a trying year, El-Munir said.

“I’m happy [with] how people react to the way I’m playing,” El-Munir said. “Even when I met with some people at the stadium or out of it, the talk that I hear from them is really … it gives me courage to go more and do more for them.

“Unfortunately, this year, the results [are] not what we want or what they want, but we’ll just keep working to make it better and better.”

The Lions have nine matches remaining this season and are 10 points out of sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“I know that anyone would see our results and the last games and they will see maybe we are a bad team or something, but I think people who really watch us, they know that we have very good players,” El-Munir said. “We have a very good system that we work with, especially after what we were going through.”

El-Munir added O’Connor is “totally different” from Jason Kreis, who coached the team until the end of June. Now O’Connor is in the process of evaluating players, and since he’s trying to get a look at everyone, players are getting rotated often. It’s tough, especially considering a good chunk of Orlando City’s players – including El-Munir – are in their first seasons with the team.

“Hopefully, until the end of the year, the coach will get the full picture of everyone on the team and how we should perform, … which information is good for us as a team, as players,” El-Munir said.

“I hope we can use that. I hope we get better results until the end of the year so we can feel better when the season’s finished. If we don’t make the playoffs, I’m going to be one of the players who’s really disappointed. But at least we can make good games, good results, so we can fix a little from our results from the last games we lost.”

Player updates

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who is recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in Orlando City’s 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution on Aug. 4, was not present for the portion of Tuesday’s training session that was open to the media. He’s missed Orlando City’s last two matches.

Defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita also wasn’t present for the portion of training open to media. The club has not provided an update on his status. Higuita missed Orlando City’s match against Atlanta United due to a red-card suspension.

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