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Orlando City returns to Sylvan Lake Park after two weeks at IMG Academy

Orlando City coach James O'Connor (left) and assistant coach Daniel Byrd talk as the Lions participate in warmups at Sylvan Lake Park. (Jordan Culver-Pro Soccer USA)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City is back in familiar territory.

The team’s preseason training shifted back to Sylvan Lake Park on Monday after two weeks at IMG Academy in Bradenton. Coach James O’Connor said he wanted to begin building a culture while at IMG, and centerback Shane O’Neill said the experience brought the team closer.

“It’s about putting in the really hard work,” he said. “Kind of suffering a little bit for one another. Now, I think, we have a lot of time, four weeks or so, to work on all the other things. I think the time at IMG was just about building that base fitness for the whole season and really kind of slogging it out a little bit.

“Understanding that’s going to go a long ways, when you’re training twice a day and it’s tough and mentally it’s tough, because it’s going to be tough at times during the season, but when you go through something like that together as a team, I think it brings everybody a little bit closer.”

Most of the team was present for the 15-minute media portion of Monday’s training session at Sylvan Lake Park. Striker Dom Dwyer, right back Ruan and right back RJ Allen were not present for the 15 minutes that were open to reporters. A team spokesman said Dwyer was at the training facility and added the club will comment on Allen’s absence at a later date. 

Ruan is going through medical examinations and will join the group this week. 

Young designated player Josué Colmán rejoined the team on Monday. 

The Lions had their first preseason training scrimmage on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls. The scrimmage ended in a 1-1 draw, with new midfielder Jhegson Sebastián Méndez scoring from the penalty spot.

“First of all, I think there’s a lot of positives there, for sure,” said O’Neill, who started in the scrimmage. “I think it’s about honing the system that we want to play. I think, for the most part, being brave on the ball, being confident, will take us a long way. The first half, we kept a clean sheet, which was important, I think, moving forward. No matter who’s on the field, that should be a goal of ours, to keep the clean sheet.

“I think, all in all, it was a really positive first experience.”

Orlando City’s next training scrimmage is Wednesday against Louisville City at Orlando City Stadium. It’s another closed-door scrimmage.

“I think the chemistry was good,” said forward Tesho Akindele, who also started Saturday’s scrimmage. “We were just figuring stuff out, you know? Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, but it was really cool that after the game everybody was throwing out ideas of what they thought went well, what they thought we needed to improve on. I thought that was a real positive.”

Akindele, who is in his first season with Orlando City after five seasons with FC Dallas, said training — and living – in Bradenton served as a good bonding experience.

“I think one thing that was really cool, in my opinion, was we stayed in these villas that were like, five people in the room and there was like a living room and I think it added to the camaraderie of the team.

“Usually, when you go on a trip, you’re in a hotel with just two people and it’s easy to get stuck in your room all day, looking at your phone or looking at your computer. With the villas, people were playing FIFA, people were in and out of each other’s rooms, so I thought it was a good bonding experience for everybody.”

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