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Young players shine during Orlando City’s 1-0 victory over Columbus

Three first-year players made the difference against the Crew.

Orlando City SC forward Benji Michel (19), forward Santiago Patiño (29) and defender Kamal Miller (27) celebrate as they beat the Columbus Crew SC Saturday at Exploria Stadium (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Saturday night was full of celebration for the youngest players on the Orlando City roster, as the team’s rookies and Homegrown players lifted the Lions to a 1-0 win over Columbus.

Homegrown rookie Benji Michel scored his first MLS goal and played in his third start in an MLS game, while defender Kamal Miller saw his sixth start. And Orlando native Santiago Patiño entered for the final third of play to pressure the Columbus backline.

For Orlando City coach James O’Connor, the young players’ impact on Saturday’s game stands as a reflection of his team’s focus on future growth.

“I think for us, we want to be intentional about giving young players opportunities,” O’Connor said. “We want to develop young players. We want to give them opportunities.”

Patiño entered the game in the 71st minute and immediately brought a frenetic energy in the attacking third, making tackles and driving into the corners to free up the middle of the field. His presence gave the Lions a much-needed boost.

Less than 15 minutes after Patiño took the pitch, Ruan took off on a breakaway, blazing a cross into Michel, who took a shot on his first touch and buried the ball in the net. The goal gave Orlando the 1-0 lead with which it ended the game.

“You look at the energy that Santi gave us, he brings a great level of commitment, outstanding work ethic and real desire to go win the game,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re craving, that type of mentality, that type of attitude.”

Miller saw some of his first action on the backline alongside Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson on Saturday night. His position pushed him further forward up the field than he is used to, and the defender took advantage of it, rifling off a shot that served as the team’s best chance on goal in the first half.

For Miller, the chance to work into the lineup alongside his veteran teammates was an important learning experience.

“It’s huge playing with them, [there’s] so much experience between the both of them,” Miller said. “I learn from them every day just watching them, so the fact that I can get out there with both of them at the same time is huge.”

Throughout the season, O’Connor has repeated the phrase “next man up” while rallying his team from the bench. The mentality has been tested during the last month, with the Lions notching their eighth game in the past 29 days and fifth of the past 14 days after Saturday’s match.

The physical load was heightened throughout the last week when rain delays, canceled flights and extra time in a U.S. Open Cup game caused the team to play more than 300 minutes of soccer in the past seven days. The team also had to adjust to the absence of Nani, who was sidelined due to food poisoning.

With O’Connor’s typical game-day starters struggling with the workload, the Lions needed a lift from younger players.

“It’s huge knowing that everyone in the office believes in us,” Miller said. “James always talks about the next man up and we’re those next guys up. We’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do.”

O’Connor will continue to look to manage his team’s rotation heading into a road game against Portland this Thursday. Nani is expected to return after his short bout with food poisoning. Defender João Moutinho is also expected to return to play this week. Moutinho has not played since the start of June due to a hamstring injury, but he has practiced with the team throughout the last week, and team officials said he could have been made available for Saturday’s game.

Forward Dom Dwyer will serve a one-game suspension this week after receiving a red card in stoppage time for throwing an elbow.

Orlando City, Pride announce reduced price tickets for upcoming games

Orlando City is offering $10 and $15 tickets for the U.S. Open Cup semifinals match against Atlanta United FC on August 6 at 7:30 p.m. The presale for season-ticket holders, who can purchase $10 tickets, will end at midnight on Monday. General admission $15 tickets will go on sale Tuesday.

Visit the OrlandoCitySC.com for more ticket information.

The Pride also are offering discounted tickets for their World Cup welcome-home game against Sky Blue FC on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will start at $9 in honor of the nine World Cup players on the Pride roster — Americans Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan; Australians Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond; Brazilians Marta and Camila; Canadian Shelina Zadorsky; and Scottish defender Claire Emslie, who joins the team for the first time this week.

Visit the Orlando Pride website for discounted tickets, which normally started at $15.

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