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Orlando City depth being tested early, injured players could return by end of March

Part of Orlando City’s extensive roster rebuild included ensuring there would be competition at different positions, not just a group of new starters.

All of that preseason competition is coming in handy. With injuries and a few suspensions keeping players off the pitch, Orlando City’s depth is being tested to start the season.

It’s a test head coach Jason Kreis appreciates – for now.

“I look at it as a positive,” Kreis said. “There’s opportunities here, starting opportunities. There’s opportunities here to be in the 18, there’s opportunities here to enter matches that may not exist if we’re at our strongest.”

Six players missed Orlando City’s season opener, and at the very least, midfielders Sacha Kljestan (second of two-match suspension) and Pierre Da Silva (second of three-match suspension) and Victor “PC” Giro (red card suspension) are guaranteed to miss the club’s home match on Saturday against Minnesota United.

Kreis said holding midfielder Uri Rosell (fitness), striker Dom Dwyer (quad strain) and attacking mid Josué Colmán (quad contusion) could be back by the end of the month. He added other injured players – midfielder Dillon Powers has been out with an ankle injury – could return before the end of the month.

The team’s remaining matches in March are against Minnesota United, NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls.

If all of Orlando City’s players with injuries don’t return this week, then seven players will miss the second game of the season. The Lions (0-0-1, 1 point) take on Minnesota United (0-1-0, 0 points) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium.

With so many projected starters out, Kreis turned to players making their Orlando City debuts in the club’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United in the season opener. The list inlcudes rookies Cam Lindley and Chris Mueller, left back Mohamed El-Munir and striker Stéfano Pinho made their MLS debuts.

Pinho came on in the 58st minute of Saturday’s match and scored the match-tying goal in stoppage time. Midfielder Richie Laryea (66th minute) and RJ Allen (81st minute) also brought energy off the bench.

“It also just shows the depth we have on the team, missing the players that we have out at the moment.” captain and center back Jonathan Spector said.

Allen added, “I think the team is really deep. Obviously, there are a lot of guys that want to play and they’re going to push the guys in front of them. I think the most important thing is when guys are playing in front of you, you’re supporting them and you’re behind them.

“Obviously I’m a guy who wants to play week-in and week-out and I’m going to work hard every day for the team.”

Respect for Heath

Saturday’s game marks the return of Adrian Heath to Orlando. The former head coach of Orlando City now coaches Minnesota United, and Kries gave credit to Heath while addressing the media Wednesday afternoon.

Heath coached Orlando City from 2011-16 and shepherded the Lions through their early expansion years. His new team, Minnesota United, joined MLS last season.

The Loons defeated Orlando City 1-0 in Minnesota in 2017.

“I think it’s incredibly important to remember that this is the gentleman who built things here,” Kreis said. “This is the gentleman that spent seven years building a USL franchise that turned into the MLS franchise. This is the gentleman that I think did a tremendous job, and I know how difficult it is to build a team, an expansion team in particular.

“I think we have to always remember that and always be thankful for his efforts. What’s interesting as well is that now he’s doing it against with a second team and that’s extremely difficult. My hat’s off to him. I have nothing but respect and admiration.”

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