Orlando City split its first two preseason matches against top MLS Eastern Conference competition and Head Coach Oscar Pareja got an opportunity to see some of his new and younger players. Kids from the academy and new arrivals got on the field and made their first impressions this past week in the 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Monday and Thursday’s 3-2 loss to New York City FC.
“The main objective in the last two games was to see more of the youngsters,” Pareja told reporters Friday during a virtual press conference via Zoom. “It allowed us to have more time for for the guys who come to preseason from the academy and mainly just getting more repetitions. At the same time, trying to get to see the new ones.”
One of those new ones, veteran Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato, will be counted on to be an important piece of the team in 2021. Pato arrived last week, went through his quarantine period, and after only a few days with the club, saw his first action as a Lion in the second half of the NYCFC scrimmage.
Despite having just arrived, Pato left an impression on his new coach.
“It was very good, just with (a few) days being with the team,” Pareja said. “His attitude has been very good to tremendous, professional, and (he) asked us to get involved in the game. We considered that it was a good moment to give him some minutes in the second half. He came in and not just played well, but scored a goal. So, this made us even more optimistic about what what he can contribute to the team. It’s a good start. Hopefully in the next weeks we can work him up on his fitness and adjust him to our game model. And that way he can be even more important.”
The new players Pareja is watching carefully include Alexander Alvarado, who scored a goal in the win over Philadelphia, and Matheus Aias, who both arrived last year but haven’t seen many minutes yet.
Overall, Pareja seems pleased with what he’s seen so far, particularly in regard to getting competitive minutes for players he still must evaluate heading into the season. As the 2021 MLS season gets closer, he’ll have to start making decisions on his preferred starting lineup and rotation, but for now things seem to be tracking well through the early part of preseason.
“(Thursday’s) game was very challenging for both teams,” Pareja said. “It was very similar to reality of the competition. So, we’re good so far, (in) the preseason the last weeks and the last two games.”
Other notes from Friday’s press conference:
- Ruan has returned from Brazil after the passing of his mother and is going through quarantine protocols.
- Pareja said Joao Moutinho’s recovery is on schedule and he’s recently made some big steps forward.
- Orlando is still waiting on some documents to arrive at the embassy for Silvester van der Water to be able to join the team.
- Pareja is not worried about van der Water’s fitness because he had been playing in the Netherlands and he expects the Dutch winger to adjust quickly.
- He didn’t mention any names, but Pareja said a couple of players had some little injuries that had kept them out of training for a bit, but just normal preseason stuff.
- Of Daryl Dike’s form in England on loan with Barnsley, Pareja said: “He has adjusted immediately and scoring five goals in 11 games and in the middle of the competition with the pressure is tremendous for Daryl. So we’re very happy for him.”
- Pareja said Dike’s team in England is giving him a look at a different mode of playing. “He went to a team that has a different style. The playing is more direct. The way he has to deal with center backs all the time and the physicality of the league and the nature of their game in England, I think he will make it even richer on the experiences that we need him to acquire there.”
- On rumors about the interest in Dike’s services overseas, Pareja said, “We knew that that would happen, but at this point we’re just enjoying watching one more young American succeeding in Europe, in a very competitive nature. Daryl’s return is on the schedule and we’ll see what happens from now on and wait. We will prepare without him but also but (we’re) also waiting for the days that he should be here with the group.”
- On Alvarado, Pareja said, “Alex has done a good job in the last two weeks of preseason trying to jell much more with the teammates and having much more participation in the last two games...Alex is somebody that is another project. (We’re) trying to develop him because he’s young. He’s international but he’s very young.”
- About Benji Michel and Andres Perea with the U.S. U-23s, Pareja said, “Excited to see the boys in the U-23 tournament. Excited to see the representation of Orlando City and these two players that deserve it get the call. And now we see Benji in the lineup and Andres coming into the game in important minutes (in) probably the most important game for them in the tournament — the first one and against their direct competitor for that spot towards qualification. So we’re happy, proud with them, and to see this much success of the young players from Orlando City (has) made our spirit very happy, very optimistic about the future here.”