Preseason soccer may not be exciting by itself, but it signals the start of the regular season being just around the corner.
Here we are, already through three weeks of Orlando City's second preseason in Major League Soccer, as the Lions prepare for their second preseason game this weekend when they travel north up I-95 to Duval to face NASL club the Jacksonville Armada for the first time.
With three weeks in the books this preseason, we look at my three main takeaways on the Lions so far:
Molino Mania Returns
One of the Lions' biggest additions this off-season wasn't technically an addition, but with Kevin Molino returning from last season's ACL injury, Orlando City stands in a much better position with him healthy and available for selection. From the limited time we've been able to see Molino, he's looked sharp. As of earlier this week, Molino hadn't been cleared to return for game action, making his status for Saturday's game against Jacksonville questionable. Regardless, he'll be worked back into the starting lineup slowly with the intent of being 100 percent ready to go by opening day against Real Salt Lake.
This Isn't an Expansion Team Anymore
The biggest difference between preseason last year and this year: Familiarity within the group. Orlando City entered camp last season with a group of players almost entirely new to each other, making Adrian Heath's job of rounding his squad into a winner much more difficult. With limited changes happening over the winter, the Lions enter the season with a group much more familiar and compatible. Heath has noted that having such a large part of the roster coming back puts the club weeks ahead of where it was last year at this time, and that alone puts the team in a better position heading into 2016.
Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries
Injuries were arguably one of the biggest driving forces behind Orlando City's playoff-less campaign last season, and unfortunately, the club has already found it tough to avoid knocks in the early going. Carlos Rivas left last weekend's game against Eastern Florida State College with a hamstring injury, and Bryan Róchez injured his quad while on national team duty with the Honduras U-21s, sidelining him for at least the next couple of weeks. New signing Devron García also sat out of that game with an undisclosed injury, though it doesn't seem serious. Injuries happen, especially in preseason when some players start running drills and scrimmages at full speed for the first time in months, so it's not entirely a panic, but worth watching as we get closer to opening day.
What are your takeaways from preseason camp so far? Comment below!