Orlando City resumes after international break eager to conquer FC Cincinnati
Orlando City dives into its final six-game postseason push on Saturday with a road game against FC Cincinnati, seeking a second straight playoff berth.
The last stretch will look different than the Lions previously expected. After holding a strong position at second in the Eastern Conference for most of the season, they skidded to drop to fourth.
Now coach Oscar Pareja said the team is acutely aware of its tenuous position four points above the cutoff line.
“Every single point will matter from now on in terms of those decisions,” Pareja said. “We’ve had a long journey this year. We’re in a position where we’re still competing for those high seeds and Cincinnati is going to be crucial to get a good result there. We have to be on our toes and be conscious about not just the importance of the game, but the quality of the rival, too.”
Saturday’s match is the first in two weeks for Orlando City following the October international break.
Despite a drop in the standings due to a three-game losing streak, the Lions entered the break on a high after a comeback win over D.C. United. They also had overcome a two-goal deficit to tie Nashville to salvage a point.
“We enjoyed it more just because we were able to get four points from those two games,” winger Benji Michel said. “Getting those four points going into the break, that’ll make the break a lot better. Otherwise, I don’t think we probably would’ve have gotten the break at all.”
The break also gave time for players to recover from injury. Pareja said every player besides defender João Moutinho (hamstring tightness) will be available.
This includes Alexandre Pato, who shined in the season opener before injuring his knee in the second half. The striker has been sidelined since — first from knee surgery, then from a series of knocks — but he traveled to Cincinnati and is expected to be available.
“He is catching up with the group, but regarding to the physical problem he had, he overcame it already,” Pareja said. “He’s training with the team and now he’s available for selection.”
FC Cincinnati provides an optimal opponent as the Lions set their sights on regaining a spot on the top of the conference table.
Cincinnati is set to finish at the bottom of the East for a third straight season, scoring only 29 goals while ceding 54. It’s minus-25 goal differentialis the worst in MLS.
Cincinnati (4-16-8) is on a six-game losing streak.
The Lions won in a rout, 3-0, in their last meeting but with interim coach Tyrone Marshall in charge Cincinnati will have different look.
“We know that in the middle of the field when they’ve got the ball, they’re very strong with their passing,” defender Emmanuel Mas said. “Oscar wants us to be able to focus on that and be mentally prepared to cut out their passes because we think that’s the strongest part of their game. But we also need to make sure that we’re ready for their transitions. We can’t relax.”
The Lions will kick off at 7:30 p.m ET at TQL Stadium with a live broadcast on WRBW 65 and a live stream on Lion Nation TV.