I'm not even going to apologise for how biased this piece is going to be. This is an Orlando City blog after all. We've had so many false dawns and lived under so may pretences in this club's short history... But the narrative is changing. Orlando City raised many eyebrows with their run to the MLS is Back final. And we now stand upon the precipice of the resumption of the 2020 'regular' season. And we do so with genuine hope once again bubbling to the surface of many supporter's soccer consciousness.
So, without further ado, let me highlight 5 reasons Oscar Pareja's team won't be taking a vacation in November...
Oscar Pareja is, tactically speaking, the greatest coach we've ever had.
It's true. Why? Well, let's be honest, he's not exactly in the most illustrious of company. Adrian Heath, admittedly, should have been given more time. Though, it has to be said, he didn't have Pareja's tactical nous. As we saw in the semi-final. Jason Kreis was always on a hiding to nothing, given what he inherited. As for James O'Connor, he looked out of his depth. Pareja's startling attention to detail was a key feature of City's run to the MLS Is Back final. The Colombian was meticulous in his approach. From his insistence that the team was first into the bubble, to THAT tactics board. Our coach leaves nothing to chance.
It's this studious approach to soccer that leads me to believe that this team will have no issues adapting to what promises to be a bizarre continuation of the season. Orlando City are in the unprecedented position (albeit, as are the rest of the league) of having to play the same three teams, twice, in a matter of weeks. With scouting opportunities at an absolute premium, focus and preparation has never been more important. This team's ability to adapt their approach, oftentimes in game, will be vital. Playing the same opponents so regularly, especially as we've played one of them already, leaves us at risk of becoming predictable
You can bet your bottom dollar that we won't be.
Oscar Pareja is meticulous in his attention to detail.
We now have a genuinely top-class goalkeeper.
The Peruvian international was one of only two genuine contenders for the MLS Is Back golden glove. One of the stars of the 2018 FIFA World Cup was, rightly, seen as something of a coup for Orlando City. The 'keeper had attracted more than admiring glances from clubs in the English Premier League. Arsenal being the most notable of reported suitors.
So far in his MLS Career, the former Allianz Lima stopper, has chalked up 24 saves and 2 clean sheets from 9 games. He's become the bedrock of a defence which seemed to improve game on game, final aside, during MLS Is Back. A great keeper can sometimes be worth 10-12 extra points on a season. You could argue he's already been worth half of that; especially given the saves he made to keep us ahead against NYCFC and the saves to keep us in the game against the Union. The LAFC tie probably doesn't happen without Gallese either.
I wrote, back in February, that Gallese could become one of the league's top 'keepers. It'd be a brave man or woman betting against it, that's for sure.
Whilst we might be lacking in the striker department, we have goals throughout the team.
It's the rancor in the room, but Orlando City badly need a striker. As badly as Luke Skywalker needed a rock the last-time we saw a rancor in a room. That being said, Orlando City still plundered 12 goals in 7 games at Disney. That's not something to be sniffed at. Nani (3), Mueller (3) and Pereyra (2) showcased their ability to score goals for this club. And that ability to spread goals throughout the team is such a valuable commodity. This is part of the reason I believe a top striker could make us genuine contenders for MLS Cup. We're not a one- man team, relying on one man to score all of our goals. We've all seen what's happened to other teams when they lose their one goal threat. Hi, Atlanta fans. Imagine what we could achieve if we combined the goals we have with a prolific centre forward?
Nani (3 goals) can now count on others to deliver the goalscoring goods, for this team.
The Cardiac Cats are back.
During MLS Is Back, Orlando notched 4 goals after the 80th minute. This statistic is fundamentally symptomatic of two things. Oscar Pareja and Fabian Bazan's commitment to team fitness and stamina, and the team's uncanny knack of not knowing when they are beaten. This team is fitter and stronger than it's ever been, with a mental fortitude hitherto never seen during Orlando City's MLS existence.
Oftentimes, in 2019, we lost points during the dying moments of games. Thankfully that trend seems to have been arrested. For now at least.
Possession is 9/10ths of the law. And we are now judge, jury and executioner.
In all but one of their games during MLS Is Back, Orlando maintained over 50% of the possession. Gone are the days when Orlando City teams would pass the ball around like a hot potato, this is a team who is able to dominate the ball whilst using this new found confidence to launch calculated attacks.
This is a team that has many facets to its attack. There is a calm and measured ambience to this team, particularly in the defensive and midfield thirds. This possession-based approach perfectly compliments the team's balanced, attacking arsenal. This team is just as adept at playing through the lines and keeping possession as they are at hitting teams from wide. Another feature of this team's play.
They are not just a one trick pony. Like we have been in the past. In 2019, it often felt like there was no real plan outside of give the ball to Nani. Now, the Portuguese ace has help. And lots of it.