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Orlando City coach James O’Connor learns a lot about Lions during Open Cup loss

Philadelphia Union defender Ray Gaddis (28) reacts as Orlando City SC midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) controls the ball during the second half at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run came to an end after a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. The Lions doesn’t have long to bounce back from the loss, as they travel to Ohio to take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday. Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s match: 

Orlando City wanted this match

Some brush off the U.S. Open Cup as unimportant or a lesser competition when compared to reaching the MLS playoffs. Orlando City coach James O’Connor made it clear he didn’t see it that way and wanted to continue the Lions’ Open Cup run.

“I wasn’t prioritizing one over the other,” O’Connor said. “For me, they were both really important games. Every game we play is always really important.

He added, “It was a massive opportunity for us.”

O’Connor put out a starting XI that included Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, Chris Mueller and other players who could likely start in Saturday’s road match against the Columbus Crew. They also started in Orlando City’s match against Toronto FC, which was four days before the Open Cup quarterfinals. 

Side note: Sacha Kljestan. The 32-year-old midfielder has played in every match he’s been eligible for – he was suspended for the first two matches of the season – and has been subbed off just once. That happened in the 64th minute of Orlando City’s Open Cup match against Miami United.

Because O’Connor devoted resources to winning the match, he has even more material to work with going forward. Some of the club’s best players were out there, and backups like Donny Toia were given a chance to prove themselves.

Wednesday’s match was O’Connor’s third as Orlando City’s head coach. He’ll learn a bit more about this club with each match. After Wednesday’s match, he said he had a lot to look at before returning to league play on Saturday.

Yotún’s absence

Midfielder Yoshimar Yotún’s abilities are sorely missed whenever he’s gone. It could be argued his presence in the middle of the pitch and in the attack is as valuable as Dwyer’s presence up top.

Against Toronto FC, Yotún connected on two key passes, earned the free kick that led to Orlando City’s first goal of the match, connected on passes from set pieces and, in general, helped Orlando City’s attack stay dynamic. The Lions didn’t dominate possession, but with Yotún involved in the attack, looked dangerous with the ball.

Uri Rosell and Will Johnson have their strengths, but neither is Yotún. Rosell had a key pass to set up a header for Johnson, but that attempt was saved.

Yotún commands the left side of the pitch when he’s playing and can launch passes from near the halfway line into open space on the wing. Against Toronto FC, those long balls weren’t quite there, but opposing defenders must respect his ability to do that. It opens up Orlando City’s attack.

O’Connor said Yotún is dealing with an illness and will be evaluated before Orlando City’s match against the Crew.

O’Neill’s debut

Orlando City’s newest player did well in his debut for the Lions. He had three tackles and five recoveries and in the 20th minute, took on the Union’s Cory Burke.

Burke, who has three goals in four MLS starts this season (16 appearances overall), tried to get past O’Neill to the end line, and the centerback got between Burke and the ball and held off the forward until goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. could come help.

We he perfect? No. None of the Lions were in the loss. But he showed he’s likely ready to get some MLS minutes with Orlando City’s depth at centerback constantly being tested. He and Amro Tarek held their own on a night where the Lions’ outside backs were under constant duress from Philadelphia’s wingers.

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