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Orlando City players look to families for support during rough season

Orlando City SC midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16), defender Yoshimar Yotun (19), midfielder Oriol Rosell (20) congratulate each other as they beat the Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City’s disappointing season ends on Sunday.

The Lions (8-21-4, 28 points) take on the New York Red Bulls in Red Bull Arena on Decision Day and are playing for nothing but pride and the chance to stop the Red Bulls (21-7-5, 68 points) from winning the Supporters’ Shield.

Since the success on the pitch hasn’t been there, a few players have leaned on their families for comfort.

“My family always has helped me at home,” left back/winger Mohamed El-Munir said. “My wife, she’s always with me, wherever I go, wherever I travel, and my son, of course.”

El-Munir said he does his best to keep his frustration with Orlando City’s season out of his home. He said he and his wife, Amira, and his son, Elyas, enjoy exploring Orlando.

“For me, when I leave training, when I leave the game – it still [upsets] … me when we’re losing or we don’t play [well] or when we lose games, especially this many games – but when I go home, I’m trying to create space for my family because they always have rights on me,” El-Munir said. 

“I can be pissed, but I need to find a place where I can put all my problems of my job, of my soccer, away, so I can spend a good time with my family. They really help me to do that, especially my wife. She understands soccer and she understands me when I get angry when we lose. Sometimes, when I carry the weight, she understands, and she gives me space. She gives me time.”

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who earlier this week described the 2018 campaign as the hardest and most frustrating season of his career, said he calls his wife, Jamie Lee Darley, every day after training and they talk during his drive home.

He added his wife is someone who will make lunch for their son — and 10 other things — while “trying to talk me through some stuff.”

“She is very into my career,” Kljestan said. “She’s been supportive of me from day one. When we talk about my career, she never talks about ‘me,’ she talks about ‘we.’ She’s in this thing with me.

“A lot of days, lately, it’s been frustrating. She’s been there for me to support me and to talk me through things and try to remain positive as we push toward the next season. She’s been the rock of the family this season.”

After Orlando City’s 2-1 victory over Columbus Crew SC – the Lions’ first win since July 14 – players were joined on the pitch by their families.

“They’re the little silver lining that I get to go home to every day,” Kljestan said about his family. “Probably my favorite moment of the season was after [beating Columbus Crew SC] when my kids got to finally come down on the field with me. They don’t care if you win or lose, they don’t care if you’re happy or sad, but they make you happy every day when get to see them.

“They got to run around on the field with me and my wife got to take a couple of pictures and those are memories that we’ll look back on forever and really cherish.”

Player updates

Midfielder Cristian Higuita wasn’t present for Friday’s training session. A club official said he’s dealing with adductor tightness.

Summer acquisition Carlos Ascues wasn’t at Friday’s session. Coach James O’Connor said Ascues, who was subbed off in the 58th minute of Sunday’s match against the Crew, picked up a quad injury.

Captain and centerback Jonathan Spector (back) wasn’t present for Friday’s training session. He hasn’t played since Orlando City’s 0-0 draw with the Houston Dynamo on Sept. 22 and has only played in 13 games this season.

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