While a 16-day stretch without a match feels like eternity for us fans, the two-plus-week layoff has come at a great time for Orlando City, according to Head Coach Jason Kreis. Following a 3-1 home loss to Toronto on July 5, the Lions got some much-needed time off before returning to the training pitch on Tuesday, which Kreis believes has been a massive help.
“Really needed [the rest],” Kreis said following training on Tuesday. “We had so many games in a row in such a short period of time, and just mentally the guys were fatigued as well. So (it was) nice to get away from the game — also get away from each other — and get the physical and mental break that we needed.”
Kreis said that the team, both players and staff, has come back this week with a jolt, which will be needed in preparation for matches against Eastern Conference playoff rival Atlanta United on July 21 and 29.
Much of the Lions’ fatigue can be attributed to a schedule of fixtures so crowded over the last two months that even a 13-day gap between games in June wasn’t enough to fully recharge the batteries of players and coaches alike. The Lions’ intense run began at the end of April, when they played 10 games between April 29 and June 4, including eight games in a four-week stretch in May alone. Following a matchless stretch between June 4 and June 17, the Lions immediately played three games in seven days and finished with two matches in five days prior to the break.
Add the sheer number of games with an intense travel schedule, which in recent weeks included a trip from Orlando to Seattle to Chicago to Salt Lake City and then back to Orlando, and the mileage has added up quickly in terms of travel distance and wear and tear on players’ legs. It comes as no surprise, then, that Kreis was so pleased to give his guys several days away from the facility.
“Guys have come back with a lot of energy and I think the coaching staff has a lot of energy right now and we’re hopeful for another 10 days of good work to get us prepared for Atlanta,” he added.
In terms of that work being done, the Lions are using the extra time between matches to focus primarily on improving themselves before turning their focus to the next opponent.
“It’s all about us this week and next week we’ll have a full week to prepare for Atlanta,” Kreis said.
Upon returning to training on Tuesday, Orlando focused on its defensive principles and execution. On Wednesday, according to Kreis, the main focus was on the Lions’ subpar attack, which is tied for the fourth-lowest goal total in MLS this season at just 22 through 20 matches.
City has only scored more than two goals in a match once on the season, and the Lions were unable to come away with a win that night despite their scoring in a 3-3 draw with Montreal. Orlando has only managed one goal in seven of its matches, while it’s been shut out six times on the year, with five of those shutouts coming in losses.
“We’ll spend a lot of time (Wednesday) talking about what we’re doing with the ball and how we can do better to create more goals and more chances and score more goals,” Kreis said Tuesday. “We feel like that’s a major issue for us right now.”
While the crowded list of fixtures was a legitimate obstacle for Orlando City, fatigue won’t be an excuse after such a long period of R&R and preparation ahead of two big matches against Atlanta United. With at least a week between each of their next 10 matches, the Lions shouldn’t experience the same sort of mental fatigue again this season.