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Revamped Orlando City has familiar goal of reaching MLS playoffs

At this point in his career, Orlando City head coach Jason Kreis has his pregame routine down pat.

It’s fairly simple. He tries to sleep in as much as he can and then he goes for a run. He tries to watch his son play soccer in the morning. He gets lunch — no specific meal is planned, he only did that during his playing days — takes a nap, then heads to the stadium a few hours early.

It’s a routine he’ll finally get to indulge in again today.  Oddly enough, Kreis’ pregame routine will be the just about the only thing that’s a holdover from last season.

At long last, after an offseason that featured a complete makeover of Orlando City’s roster, the Lions are set to open their regular season at 7:30 against D.C. United.

It’s a home game, and it’ll be broadcast locally on WRDQ-Channel 27.

“‘Curious’ is probably not the right word,” Kreis said about finally getting a chance to see his Lions’ play a regular season match.

“Excited because I have seen through the preseason matches some really, really electrifying and pleasing performances. I know the capability of the group. There is a little bit of mystery still involved because we have quite a few players actually that we’ve signed and are here that aren’t available yet.

“There is quite a possibility that we were look like one team on opening day and another team a month and a half in. That’s exciting as well.”

The match against D.C. United is just a start — and one that won’t give too much evidence one way or the other regarding what Orlando City will do throughout the 2018 season.

Orlando City’s roster overhaul has been well-documented at this point. The club now features a host of new players expected to make the Lions’ fourth MLS campaign the most successful one in club history.

MLS veterans like Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan and Uri Rosell have been added to the team, along with potential breakout players like left back Mohamed El-Munir, center backs Lamine Sané and Amro Tarek and young designated player Josué Colmán.

Right back RJ Allen was acquired from NYCFC and midfielder Jose Villarreal was brought in from the LA Galaxy. NASL Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Stéfano Pinho is now also with Orlando City.

Plus, the team’s rookies — college assist king Chris Mueller and 2017 ACC Midfielder of the Year Cam Lindley — made waves during the preseason.

Meram said it’s good no one knows what this club will bring to the pitch this season. The Lions know and that’s what matters.

“I think, collectively, internally, we’ve seen it with the preseason games we’ve had,” Meram said. “Now it’s just executing on gameday with the atmosphere. That’s to our advantage.”

A reversal of last season’s form is a tall task considering Orlando City’s 2017 season was its worst in MLS. The Lions started strong, but crumbled during the summer months and finished the year 10-15-9, good for 39 points and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference table.

Midfielder Will Johnson, one of the few returning veterans from last season said fans are “hungry for results.”

So is the team.

“We’re all-in,” Johnson said. “We’re all bought in. We’re all on the same page. We’re all willing to sacrifice individual goals and egos and wants for the collective group. This is a team. This is a group. This is a family. This is a bunch of guys who are all on the same page. There’s healthy criticism and confrontation and disagreements within our group and then we move on and we all reunite.”

The club could get off to a slow start, too. Five players — four likely starters — will miss the opener for assorted reasons. Of the new players, Colmán (thigh injury) and Rosell (fitness) will definitely be out. Sané is a maybe.

Kreis wasn’t shy in admitting there could be several lineups trotted out over the start of the season.

“Unless we do really well,” he said with a smile. “I have no hesitation with sticking with the guys that perform. That’s the way I think it needs to be.”

Still, even with all the roster turnover and high fan expectations, Kreis isn’t focused on a potential postseason berth.

One match — one pregame routine — at a time. That’s the key.

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