At long last, Orlando City’s preseason work will be put to the test.
The Lions take on NYCFC at 2 p.m. on Saturday at home to open their 2019 MLS campaign. It’s a game coach James O’Connor said the team is “desperate” for after a long, tough preseason, and it’ll be the first true test of the team chemistry the Lions spent preseason building.
New York City FC is a familiar opponent for Orlando City. The Lions played NYCFC three times last season and lost all three matches, failing to score a goal in any of them. Orlando City did defeat the Pigeons 2-1 in a preseason friendly during the Orlando City Invitational, but O’Connor said he expects NYCFC to bring more to the table for a regular season match.
For example, New York lost the friendly without its marquee offseason signing, Romanian star Alexandru Mitrita. MLSSoccer.com reported NYCFC paid $8.5 million for the attacker.
“Look, preseason is preseason,” O’Connor said. “I think once the league starts, their new $9 million signing, I’m sure, will play. You know, I think there will be a few, maybe, personnel changes. A league game is completely different to preseason.”
Still, O’Connor said he was pleased with what Orlando City achieved during his first preseason at the helm.
“We take tremendous confidence, not just from that game against New York, but, I think from the level of work and the attitude that the players have shown throughout preseason,” O’Connor said. “I think when you look at the start, two weeks and the volume of work at IMG, and the next little phase, we feel as if the players have really bought into what we’re trying to do.
“The work that they’ve done has been great. We’re very, very encouraged by the whole of the preseason, by the attitude and the spirit that we’ve seen amongst the guys.”
Plus, Orlando City’s preseason invitational didn’t include star players Dom Dwyer or Nani. O’Connor said both should be ready for Saturday’s match.
This is third time Orlando City will open its season with a home match against NYCFC, which has won that last four regular-season meetings between the two sides. The Lions finished last season 8-22-4 (28 points) while NYCFC went 16-10-8 (56 points) and lost to Atlanta United in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We can’t wait to play in front of our supporters,” O’Connor said. “It’ll be so exciting to be back home, to play in front of everyone in the season opener. You can feel the buzz around the city. You speak to people, everyone just can’t wait for Saturday to come. We’re really excited about the prospect of that.”