Midfielder-turned-right-back Will Johnson was one of the first players insisting Orlando City wouldn’t panic following a 0-2-1 start.
Like Lions coach Jason Kreis, Johnson maintained it was too early for Orlando City too lose faith. It was early in the season. Players needed to get healthy. All three of Orlando City’s designated players had yet to play match minutes together.
Four matches later, it looks like Johnson was right.
The Lions are riding a four-game win streak heading into a 4 p.m. Sunday match against the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, Colo., that will be broadcast on ESPN.
“I’ve been around this league to know what a good team looks like,” Johnson said. “What the right locker room looks like. What winning teams look like.
“I knew that in the first three games, we were trying to piece together a formation to get us results and just try to stay above water a little bit until we got healthy and got everybody back to where we could put a really, really good team on the field and go for wins instead of games that were more 50-50, could have gone either way.”
Johnson said a lot of work has gone into establishing a foundation, but there’s no one with the club is complacent.
“We’ve got to be better in so many areas to compete against the good teams in our conference,” Johnson said. “Atlanta, Toronto, New York City FC – we’re going to have to play much better and make a lot less mistakes to win against these sorts of teams.”
Even though defending during dead-ball situations has been a recurring issue for the Lions, the club has still found ways to win games. Striker Dom Dwyer has five goals in four games and rookie Chris Mueller and scored in three consecutive games – one shy of the rookie record.
The center back pairing of Amro Tarek and Laminé Sane has worked while team captain Jonathan Spector has missed time with a concussion. Johnson has worked out at right back so far, with Yoshi Yotún and Cristian Higuita both performing well in their roles as defensive midfielders.
Orlando City’s four-match win streak matches the streak it had last season during a 6-1-0 start. To say last season ended poorly would be an understatement.
“I think the first thing that we need to think about or talk about is that we aren’t a previous Orlando team,” Kreis said. “We don’t look at the past and have any particular onus or anything that we feel like we have to prove because there’s very, very few of us that have been here for long stretches of time.
“We’re a brand-new team with brand-new objectives and a brand-new mindset so we need to just stay focused on ourselves and not worry about the past. Also, stay focused on the fact – the fact of the matter is we have a lot of improvement to make still.
“Yes, we have some wins in a row now, but we could have been better in all of those wins and, frankly, should have been better.”
The Rapids (2-2-2, 8 points) are coming off a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in a match that saw goalkeeper Tim Howard sent off in the 20th minute. He was shown a straight red card for handling the ball outside the box and will miss the Rapids’ match against Orlando City.
Colorado held on for a while against Real Salt Lake, despite being down a man. The Rapids didn’t concede a goal until the 82nd minute, though that goal was followed by two more in the next 10 minutes.
The loss snapped a four-match unbeaten streak for the Rapids.
“Extremely, extremely hard working,” Kreis said. “Together team right now. Their last four matches, they’ve had three extremely positive results and then one poor one… I think that’s a bit of a blip. For me, it’s a team that’s riding some confidence and a team that works extremely hard.”