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Orlando City overhaul at midfield provides added depth, versatility to fit Óscar Pareja’s style

Orlando City midfielder Uri Rosell works through strength training during a preseason session. (Julia Poe/Pro Soccer USA)

ORLANDO, Fla. —  The first pair of Orlando City preseason matches at Exploria Stadium have offered glimpses of what the team could look like this season under coach Óscar Pareja. 

Saturday’s match against the Montreal Impact was something of a full-speed pickup game — the team had spent its first three weeks together undergoing grueling fitness sessions, but Pareja hadn’t installed most of the Lions’ tactical plans yet so they relied more on instincts.

Still, Pareja felt confident in the team’s performance against the Impact.

“The thing that I liked the most was I saw a team with the ball and without it,” Pareja said. “We’re going to build it slowly. At this point, we would like many more things better, but we are very content today.”

That building process will add to the tests facing the Lions’ midfielders, who will be tasked with learning Pareja’s style of play while adjusting to new teammates after the position saw the most extensive changes since the 2019 season.

Only three midfielders remain from the start of 2019 — Uri Rosell, Nani and Sebas Méndez. Orlando City added Robinho and Mauricio Pereyra at midseason, then added four additional midfielders during the offseason.

Rosell said the current lineup through the midfield offers rare depth, providing more versatility than in the past. He particularly noted Urso’s addition as a major change to the unit that made an impact during the club’s match against Montreal.

And the midfielder said during a short amount of time together, new and returning players have taken well to the style and attitude of the new coaching staff.

“He’s really managed well the players, I think that’s one of the skills you have to have as a coach,” Rosell said of Pareja. “He really does that well. From what I’ve seen, he takes the best from each player and I think that’s really difficult to get. We are really happy. I’m really happy that we have these kind of coaches that can bring this skills to see everybody at their best.”

Part of the process of building the 2020 midfield included the departure of midfielders Will Johnson and Sacha Kljestan. The loss of the pair wasn’t a surprise — both players saw their time on the field dwindle toward the end of the season, and neither necessarily fit the style of high-possession, high-pressure attack Pareja plans to deploy. 

But regardless of their playing minutes, Kljestan and Johnson provided strong leadership in the locker room and emotional stability when the team struggled throughout 2019.

In their stead, players such as Uri Rosell have felt the call to step up as leaders. Although the main challenge of the preseason is to build chemistry across the roster, Rosell said he and other returning players are working now to establish themselves and provide support to their teammates once the season begins.

“I think the veteran guys, because we have more experience, we know how these big moments work and we try to step in during these moments,” Rosell said. “We [haven’t had] yet the ups and downs, but we will, and when those times arrive, it’s going to be important for us to step up and help the team as mentors.”

Pareja will continue to use the final series of preseason games to hone different aspects of the team. Wednesday night’s match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies saw Nani and Dom Dwyer sitting out, giving a different look at the attack.

But Rosell is most excited for the fans to see the team in the season opener at the end of the month once Pareja has had the chance to fully install his system.

“I think it’s gonna be interesting for them because they’ll see some changes,” Rosell said. “With the new players, with the new coaches and with the new philosophy, I think they’re going to see the change and they’re gonna like it because we’re gonna win.”

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