The way midfielder Will Johnson sees it, the culture shift at Orlando City has already begun.
Johnson, who is in his third season with Orlando City, said O’Connor has made expectations clear throughout preseason training and the team is embracing its philosophy under O’Connor, who is in his first preseason with the team.
“I think we’ve started to put down the foundation of who we want to be and what we want to be throughout the course of the year,” he said.
“James has done a good job bringing that change to our culture and the guys are embracing it instead of fighting it. It’s been hard work, but that’s the only way we’re going to get things done around here. It’s been refreshing throughout the first couple weeks.”
Johnson has a clear view of what Orlando City’s identity needs to be.
“We need to be blue-collar,” he said. “We need to be humble. We need to fight for each other. We need to love each other. We need to respect each other. And, ultimately, know that when we show up on a Sunday that every guy has the other guy’s back. There’s no one player who’s bigger than the club. Everybody’s treated equally, with respect. That’s a good basis to start to build a foundation for a winning club.”
Including trialists and draft picks, Orlando City has more than a dozen new players training with the team when compared to last season’s roster. Fourteen players from last season’s roster have left the team.
Orlando City finished last season 8-22-4 (28 points).
“Obviously, the results last year speak for themselves and things didn’t go well, so James had to come in with a different group of guys,” Johnson said. “A younger, fitter, faster, stronger group that is not afraid of challenges and not afraid of the pressure of playing for a team like Orlando with passionate fans and a city that expects results.
“It takes a unique type of person to be able to embrace that pressure and that starts with us creating a culture that when we lose a couple of games, things don’t fall apart and crumble like maybe they have in the past. That’s the part where we’re trying to really push ourselves to test ourselves in adverse training conditions and games so that when we get in front of the cameras and our supporters, that things go the way that we want them to.”
Homegrown signing Benji Michel, who is in his first season as a professional player after three years with the University of Portland, said he was shocked at the level of intensity in Orlando City’s preseason.
“The intensity is higher,” he said. “The speed of play is higher. Everything about it, it’s a level above from college.”
O’Connor said after two and 1/2 weeks of preseason training, he’s been pleased with the attitude of his players.
“I think the attitude from the players has been first-class,” he said. “There was no complaints about IMG. It was tough. It was really hard. I think the attitude and the intensity and the continued support for each other has been great and that needs to stay where it is. We need to maintain that now through the course of the season.”
Orlando City continues preseason training with a closed-door scrimmage on Wednesday against Louisville City in Orlando City Stadium.
“James is the one who creates the philosophy and identity, but it’s nothing unless the players embrace it and believe in it, which we do,” Johnson said.
“We think he’s on to something here. We respect him as our leader and so guys like me who have been around for a while have to show the young guys how it’s done every day in training, bringing it with everything we’ve got. For me, it just goes back to leading by example.”
Young designated player Josué Colmán is training with the team again and has received his green card, clearing up an international spot for the Lions.
Brazilian right back Ruan went through medical exams and O’Connor said he was hopeful the right back would be cleared on Tuesday.
“Josué and Ruan, they’re going to have to have the loading phase,” O’Connor said. “We’re going to try and make sure they get loaded correctly. We just need to be a little bit patient with both of them. I think the temptation is to throw them both in against Louisville and say, ‘OK, here you go.’ That’s not how it’s going to go. Both of the guys are going to go through what some of the other guys have gone through and they needed to be loaded and prepared correctly.”
Right back RJ Allen wasn’t present for the media portion of training on Tuesday and O’Connor said, “In the next couple of days there’s going to be a statement from the club regarding RJ and that’ll sort of explain everything to everyone once that statement has been made.”