As necessary as the preseason grind is to prepare a team for an MLS season, at a certain point it becomes just that – a grind. Players and coaches alike have been putting in work for a month and a half on the practice pitch, with only preseason friendlies as their rewards thus far.
According to Orlando City manager Adrian Heath, his squad has reached the point where it's itching to hit the field for the season opener this Sunday against Real Salt Lake.
"We've hit that stage now where we want to be playing," Heath said this week. "It's six weeks in – for some that were in before it's eight, nine weeks – so they're ready to go. There's a good atmosphere within the group. I'm really pleased with where we are at this moment in time."
A 6-1 demolition of Esporte Clube Bahia last Saturday provided the final tune-up for the Lions ahead of their 2016 campaign, and with many of the club's projected starters going the distance in the victory, things appear to be coming together for Orlando ahead of the matches that matter in the standings.
Speaking to the media following training this week, Pedro Ribeiro reflected the confidence of a side fresh off a beat-down victory and turning the final corner of the preseason feeling good about itself.
"We're very, very confident," Ribeiro said. "I feel like we're miles ahead of where we were last year at this same point of preseason, and we're still a young team but more experienced. We've already had one year in MLS, most of us."
Ribeiro's comments are consistent with a theme of this 2016 preseason, as he is one of a number of players to have said that the Lions are much further along than they were during last year's run-up to the club's MLS debut. Part of Ribeiro's confidence could certainly be a product of his improved play this preseason after moving back to the central midfield, but the message has been consistent from the Lions that they believe they are better in better position to kick the season off this time around.
We'll have to wait until Sunday to see just how ready the Lions are – injuries to Carlos Rivas and David Mateos have popped up recently, which won't help – but the fact that the squad is so confident and eager to get the regular season underway cannot be anything other than a positive going into the 2016 campaign.