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Takeaways from Orlando City’s preseason friendly against NYCFC

Orlando City forward Chris Mueller (9) passes the ball in front of New York City defender Maxime Chanot (4) during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City earned a 2-1 win over NYCFC Saturday night, offering fans the first glimpse of the Lions’ revamped roster. Here are three takeaways from the Lions’ win:

O’Connor focuses on fixing past ailments

There were two things that stood out in coach James O’Connor’s criticisms of the team last season: The Lions’ attack had little to no movement, limiting options for the man with the ball, and the team’s defensive mentality was weak.

It was just a friendly, but Orlando City supporters who came to Orlando City Stadium Saturday night got to see the fruits of the Lions’ labor during preseason training to resolve those problems.

Particularly in the first half, the player on the ball for Orlando City had options. Movement without the ball was strong, and the players took advantage of the options there were in the box. Both goals were examples of that. Sacha Kljestan was able to head to ball to Tesho Akindele after a cross was sent into the penalty area. Akindele ran like his life depended on it and freed up space for Chris Mueller on the second goal.

“Where we just need to be careful is the understanding of the movements,” he said. “I think you could see tonight, at times, the man on the ball had a lot of options. There was a compactness about our shape, which was really good.”

The movement without the ball was there, and that’ll only improve when Dom Dwyer, a player who absolutely demands space, returns to the pitch. NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson is really the only reason Orlando City didn’t strike first.

Defensively, there was no questioning Orlando City’s mentality. The Lions pressed and were relentless in forcing NYCFC to cough up the ball. Again, this was particularly evident in the first half. 

“I don’t want to have goals scored against us,” O’Connor said. “I expect people to work. I don’t necessarily think it was overly-aggressive. I just thought it was good defending. I think there’s a couple of times where the pressure was really good from the individuals.

“We can be pleased with the understanding of defensive principles. I didn’t see any issues.”

Can that type of mindset be dangerous? Sure. One missed challenge and any team could get back in transition. But there was real defensive fire for the Lions.

Preseason grind paying off

O’Connor spent a big chunk of the end of last season stressing the importance of preseason training. Saturday, Mueller, Akindele and O’Connor all spoke about Orlando City’s preseason – from the training at IMG to what the team is doing at Sylvan Lake Park.

O’Connor said Saturday’s match was a product of the work put in this preseason. 

“It’s hard to explain the volume of work these guys have gone through,” O’Connor. “The staff that came to IMG, they saw how hard they worked. They’ve seen the level they put in. I think tonight was good indication as to why we’ve worked as hard as we have, but we need to maintain that. It’s preseason.”

Akindele and Mueller both said the team is a group of friends now after its two-week grind at IMG.

“You could see that translate onto the pitch,” O’Connor said. “All of us are good friends and I think that’s what makes us a really good team.”  

Lions temper their celebration

It was a win. It was a win over a team Orlando City couldn’t even score against last season. There was excitement from the supporters in the stands.

But – and O’Connor said this at least three times in his post-match comments – it was preseason. Perspective must be added.

Orlando City will face NYCFC again in two weeks in their season opener. Will all of the positives that were on display Saturday night still be there? Both teams will be better – no one is at their best in preseason training – and the only way to really erase the demons of years past is to win in the regular season.

“I’d say, if we’re looking at the amount of positives tonight, there’s a load that we can be really pleased about, but the danger is people get carried away,” O’Connor said. “It’s preseason. Again, the understanding was great, very encouraged by the performance, but again, it’s preseason.”

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