SANFORD, Fla. – It was the type of performance that leaves a team itching to get out and do it again.
After nearly a month of seeing good scoring chances go astray, Orlando City hammered home three before halftime of its 3-0 romp at Montreal. Add a clean sheet from Brian Rowe, and it might have been the Lions’ most complete outing of 2019.
“Every chance we got at the beginning, we finished them,” said rookie forward Santiago Patiño. “We controlled the game from the beginning, and it helped us to have momentum the whole game.”
That was two weekends ago. With MLS laying low for its June international break, Orlando City won’t play another league contest until June 26. So much for a springboard.
If the Lions are to see any longer-term reward, the U.S. Open Cup is where it begins. After last year’s run to the quarterfinals put to rest a couple of dubious Cup campaigns, Orlando City begins its 2019 journey Wednesday night at USL squad Memphis 901 FC.
Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex on Memphis’ southeastern outskirts. The winner will move into the Round of 16 for a game either June 18 or 19.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” said City coach James O’Connor. “We need to make sure we’re dialed in and our attention to detail is on point against them.”
Said forward Chris Mueller: “You can’t look forward to it any more than I think we are.”
Memphis 901, in its first USL season, currently sits 15th in the USL Championship’s 18-team Eastern Conference. After winning just one of its first 10 matches, the club recently enjoyed a five-game unbeaten streak until it was snapped by the Indy Eleven last weekend.
Memphis is coached by Tim Mulqueen, who was Orlando City’s goalkeeper coach a year ago until leaving for Graceland last August. Captain Marc Burch played for six MLS clubs between 2006-18; also on the roster is midfielder Cam Lindley, on loan from the Lions.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Burch told Memphis reporters. “I’ve looked at this (Memphis) team since the beginning of the season and we have guys who are a lucky break or a coach that likes them away from being in MLS.”
Said Lindley: “There are a lot of guys in Orlando who have been in this exact spot.”
Well, not necessarily a lot, but the Lions have a history of picking up guys who helped send them to early U.S. Open Cup exits. It happened with Victor “PC” Giro after his 120th-minute goal sent the Fort Lauderdale Strikers through in 2016; a year later it was Miami FC’s Stefano Pinho turning heads with three goals against City.
“For every team, I think any cup competition gives you a chance to create history,” said O’Connor, who at this time a year ago was coaching USL’s Louisville City
“For Memphis, they’ll be really excited to have an MLS team come to their hometown. I’m sure their supporters are looking forward to the game; their players are looking forward to the game.”
O’Connor, meantime, must figure out how to fill in the Lions’ missing pieces now on international duty.
Two of City’s three goalscorers against Montreal are part of Canada’s Gold Cup roster – midfielder Will Johnson, whose brilliant header to finish a 20-pass buildup struck the final nail, along with striker Tesho Akindele.
In addition, midfielder Sebas Méndez is with Ecuador’s national team as it prepares for the Copa America. And questions linger about how much Dom Dwyer can give after a hamstring problem left him unavailable against the Impact.
“We want to make sure the ones that are here are focused on where we need to be,” O’Connor said.
Indeed, it’ll be up to the ones still around to build on the good vibes from Montreal.
“We came out firing,” said Mueller, who assisted on Akindele’s goal. “We took advantage of our opportunities, something we kind of struggled with early in the season.”
Said Patiño: “I think it gives us a lot of confidence. We saw that when we play well, we score goals and we can do a really good job.”
Patiño wasn’t on the pitch at Stade Saputo but could factor into Wednesday’s game as a plug-in for Akindele, depending on Dwyer’s usage. The former Freedom High standout, taken by the Lions as the No.3 pick of this year’s MLS SuperDraft, has started twice but last saw action in a May 15 loss at Seattle.
“I think the rookie season is difficult,” Patiño said. “You have people in front of you that have experience and they’re really good players too. I’ve just been taking everything as it goes – staying positive and working hard and waiting for my opportunity.”
A U.S. Open Cup contest against lower-tier competition could be a good spot to find a little rhythm. Just as long as the Lions don’t leave Memphis on a blue note.
“I know the whole group wants to win every game we face,” Patiño said. “I know we will treat the U.S. Open Cup like we will an MLS game. We’ll treat it the same, prepare for it and go out there to win.”