The Lions head over to Bradenton’s IMG Academy tomorrow to begin a week of intense training in preparation for the 2021 Major League Soccer season. After last year, Orlando City won’t be sneaking up on anyone in MLS and so it’s important to get off to a good start in what could be Orlando’s most important in MLS to date.
A bad season could result in the team sliding back to being among the league’s bottom feeders, while a second consecutive good year could cement the Lions’ reputation as a club that has the ambition of remaining among the MLS Cup contenders for years to come.
While those who voluntarily arrived in town early for quarantine and medical exams are already in training, Monday is the first official day of preseason training. Most of the Lions are already in place, but a few are dealing with typical international paperwork. The good news is that Head Coach Oscar Pareja expects them to arrive soon and benefit from pretty much the full preseason with the team.
“We remain optimistic on adding (Alexandre) Pato and Silvester (van der Water) next week,” Pareja said at Thursday’s first press conference of the season. “We’ll be leaving to our camp on Sunday, but hopefully we can resolve all the visa process which has been very good so far and have the boys in the middle of the week.”
Pareja said the 2020 season was a good step forward for what the team wants to do, but he has his sights set on improving the team’s attacking end of the field. The additions of Pato and van der Water were made with an eye on becoming a more dangerous attacking club this season.
“We know and understand that this is a very competitive league, and in order to achieve the objectives, we want to be better,” he said. “And that’s the reason why we aimed for bringing in two more attacking players who can give us diverse forwards going forward (who) can give us versatility. We found in Pato and Silvester too those qualities. (We’re) waiting for (Daryl) Dike in May and letting him have this great experience in the Championship and having this many games, knowing we were in a pandemic mode. Nani came (to camp) even better physically. Matheus Aias and Tesho (Akindele) and (Alex) Alvarado – the same with Mauricio Pereyra, (David) Loera…Jordan Bender also came in a great mode and he looks like he’s so eager to step up. And Chris Mueller and the other boys, so we’re very optimistic.”
In addition to the senior attacking players, the club is also taking a good long look at some offensive pieces from the academy. Key OCB players Moises Tablante and Wilfredo Rivera, who were the Young Lions’ biggest scoring threats in 2020, are in camp and will be pressuring those ahead of them to perform.
One attacker who won’t be with the club during preseason is first-round pick Derek Dodson. The rookies selected in the MLS SuperDraft this year will all be absent during camp. With the pandemic, many teams have moved to a spring season and the plan is for them to remain with their college teams until the end of their seasons.
“Normally, we used to have these players added to the preseason (roster) so we can see them, and we can analyze how they gel with the group,” Pareja said. “We want to support them on finalizing and graduating. Some of them needed a couple months more, knowing that the competition will help them as well. So, we’re monitoring them through our assistant coaches and the communication with their coaches.”
If the Lions maintain the good defensive level the team found in 2020 — and perhaps improve on it a bit — and if the preseason emphasis on the attack bears fruit, the 2021 season could be an even better one for Orlando City.