SANDY, Utah — Orlando City is riding a bit of momentum for the first time in a while.
The Lions (2-2-2, 8 points) have won two of their last three games. It’s a small sample size early in the season, but Orlando City is looking to build on it after some success during its first six matches.
Coming off a 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids, Lions coach James O’Connor said he’s spoken to individual players regarding levels of fatigue before the team’s road trip to Utah.
“I think we’ve been really pleased with the players,” O’Connor said. “When you look at the level of the performances, we’ve been really, really encouraged and really, really pleased. I think the biggest thing for us this weekend is, obviously, managing the travel and managing the squad. Trying to see, OK, who’s looking, maybe, a little tired?”
Saturday, the Lions face a slumping Real Salt Lake side in Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL (1-1-4, 4 points) has lost its past four matches, finishing three of those four matches with 10 men on the pitch.
There are still issues for Orlando City to fix. The Lions have conceded 11 goals so far (tied for the most in the Eastern Conference) and, at times, struggled to put away chances.
“I think that there’s a lot of areas for improvement,” forward Chris Mueller said. “But, I mean, we definitely don’t want to be letting up three goals a game, right? That’s one of our main takeaways.
“Where can we better as a team, defensively? Not just the defenders. Not just pointing any single person out. As a unit, as a defensive unit, we need to get better in our understanding and just really grinding out results and making sure that we’re not giving up as many goals.”
O’Connor had similar thoughts regarding the team’s defending. Throughout the season, he’s been quick to point out individual goals — no matter how they’re scored — don’t just come down to the back line.
He’s switched back and forth from a three centerback formation to a four centerback formation and said the defending needs to be stronger regardless of the team’s shape.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just the decision. … I think the goal goes in and people always look at the defenders, but there’s other areas as well that we need to be a little bit sharper at as regards to our understanding about when to open up and where we’re trying to push the opponent,” O’Connor said.
“I think, again, for us, just making sure people have good understanding of the principles of what we’re speaking about defensively and then implementing it in the correct way.”
The Lions had something of a breakthrough in the attack against the Colorado Rapids when they scored four goals in a thriller.
“I think we believe that we’ve got players that are very capable of scoring goals,” O’Connor said. “I think we’ve created numerous chances. I think it was fantastic for us to go and do it. Great excitement and great entertainment, just not great for the heart.”
Orlando City will take on Real Salt Lake without centerback Lamine Sané, who is being rested and didn’t travel with the team to Utah.
Centerback Alex De John (hamstring) and defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues (hamstring) also didn’t travel with the team.