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Orlando City coach James O’Connor: Roster decisions will be made at the end of the season

Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (31) attempts to shoot the ball against Orlando City midfielder Oriol Rosell (20) during the second half at Toyota Park. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City coach James O’Connor is confident in what he’s building with the Lions.

It’s no secret he’s disappointed with the Lions record with him as the head coach. Orlando City has gone 1-8-2 in league play with O’Connor as head coach, though he was hired while the Lions were in freefall. Orlando City had already lost a club-record eight consecutive matches before O’Connor’s first game against LAFC.

O’Connor has said behind-the-scenes work is underway, but over the weekend also questioned the character of some of the players after a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Fire. Orlando City underwent a roster overhaul before the start of the 2018 season, but that was with Jason Kreis as the team’s head coach.

Since O’Connor started coaching Orlando City, he’s given different players looks at different positions, plus summer acquisitions Shane O’Neill and Carlos Ascues have seen significant time at centerback. Marquee offseason acquisition Justin Meram was also traded back to the Columbus Crew.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, O’Connor said he’s not sure if another roster rebuild will be necessary.

“I think decisions like that will be made at the end of the season,” he said. “I think the important aspect is to make sure that you’re very diligent in how you go about things. I think, at the moment, everything is really negative, but there’s so much to be positive about.

“When you look at the atmosphere in the home games, when you look at the passion that our supporters bring, when you look at the stadium that we have, we have everything here to be able to go and be successful. For us, it’s analyzing everything to make sure that we get the level of success that we all want. Rest assured, we’re going to get there.”

The Lions (7-18-3, 24 points) have just one win in their last 19 matches and have six games remaining in the season. They aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet, either. The Montreal Impact are in sixth place with 39 points.

Orlando City plays the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium.

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (who was also acquired in the offseason) said the players owe something to the supporters who’ve stuck by the team through a 2018 campaign that started with promise but has since gone off the rails.

“I hope that we’ll show a good effort this weekend at home,” Kljestan said. “Obviously, we’re in a very tough moment and a win would just bring a good feeling back to a lot of people in Orlando, so I hope we can do that this weekend.

“Everything’s much better when you’re winning. Right now, obviously, we’re stuck in the mud and there’s something gone on here that we have to fix, and it’s taken too long to figure that out.”

O’Connor said he wants to see his team show some fight – something it obviously lacked last weekend – over the final six matches of the season. From a technical aspect, he still wants his group to cut out individual errors and take chances when they’re available.

The individual errors have been a glaring issue all season. Three of the four goals Orlando City conceded over the weekend came after turnovers.

“We’re through a process that is pretty painful, for all of us,” O’Connor said. “But again, the picture, the painting, that we will create will be very, very beautiful.”

Player updates

Centberack Amro Tarek and midfielder Richie Laryea (hamstring issues for both) were present for Thursday’s training session and were jogging to the side during the portion open to the media. 

Forward Jose Villarreal (ankle) and midfielder Cristian Higuita (hamstring) were not present for the first 15 minutes of training. 

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