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Open Competition for Spots a Theme for Orlando City

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Since Head Coach James O’Connor arrived, new opportunities have surfaced for many players.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-D.C. United vs Orlando City SC Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A popular soccer cliché says that when a new head coach starts working with a team, the fight for a place in the starting lineup gets very intense as players who had established themselves with the former gaffer no longer have their spots guaranteed, while others who didn’t have much playing time see a new opportunity arise.

That seems to be the case right now with Orlando City as it has been impossible to say what the starting lineup will look like since Head Coach James O’Connor took over less than three weeks ago.

O’Connor debuted against Los Angeles FC and from that match to the next one, against Toronto FC, five starters changed. Last night, against the Philadelphia Union, new faces like Shane O’Neill were present in the starting lineup.

According to O’Connor, that’s all reflexive of his willingness to give every player in the roster a shot, especially during his first weeks with the Lions.

“It’s clean slate for everyone,” the coach said after Monday’s training session. “I’m going to make decisions based on what I see in training and how I think it capable of doing the required role. What’s happened in the past is in the past.

“Everyone gets a clean slate, we’re going to assess everyone through training and everyone is going to be given an opportunity. Quite a few people are going to get opportunities and then it’s up to the individuals, when they get in the team, to play well and stay in the team.”

Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. was one of the first players to benefit from O’Connor’s approach. The 26-year-old keeper, who had played in just one league match in three seasons with Orlando, got his first start with the new coach in just his second game, the 2-1 victory over Toronto.

To Edwards, the perspective of multiple spots in the starting lineup being up for grabs has already impacted the team’s motivation in training sessions.

“He told everyone and keeps reiterating ‘I’m going to play anybody that I think will give me the best chance to win’,” the goalkeeper said following last weekend’s game. “I think that should instill confidence in everybody. You can see the level in training getting better and I think he’s, like I said, instilling confidence in everybody.”

Some players should not be threatened by O’Connor’s willingness to give out minutes, such as Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotún, Sacha Kljestan, or Jonathan Spector. For pretty much every other spot, however, there could be some kind of competition and that could very well be a positive as the Lions try to rise up the table over the rest of the season.