After a weekend of delayed games and delayed flights, Orlando City is back in town to host the quarterfinals of the Open Cup against New York City FC on Wednesday.
Orlando City was forced to postpone its rematch with Philadelphia to Sunday, then had to wait an extra day to travel home due to technical issues with its flight. The players finally arrived Monday afternoon, down two days that were originally meant to be used for travel and recovery before Wednesday’s match.
With only one day to prepare, the team now faces NYCFC in the next knock-out round of the Open Cup. Although the travel delays were a source of concern for players’ recovery, the team refuses to see them as a weak spot.
“It’s been back-to-back-to-back-to-back games and it’s been coming really fast,” forward Tesho Akindele said. “But New York City played on Sunday as well in New York, so they’re going through the same thing that we are. It’s not something we can look at as an excuse right now.”
The two teams have met twice already this season, both of which ended in draws — a 2-2 finish in March and a 1-1 result in April.
In the first meeting, Orlando City fought back from a 2-0 deficit, with goals from Akindele and Chris Mueller in the final third of play propelling the team to a draw. The Lions started more quickly in the second game, pulling ahead 1-0 after a goal from Nani, but New York City leveled the game in the second half to finish with another draw.
“It’s a team that we know,” Akindele said of NYCFC. “I think we’re familiar with them and I think we match up well against them. We’re just gonna try to play them the same way we did earlier in the year which are games that we feel like we should’ve won.”
The teams’ third meeting will have one major difference — in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup, one team must walk away with a win. New York City has only suffered two losses this season, but it also has struggled to finish games, posting more draws (8) than wins (7).
Despite falling in the middle of an already packed MLS schedule, Orlando City coach James O’Connor has made it clear that the Open Cup is a major focus for Orlando City. The team sits in the No. 9 slot in the Eastern Conference, two places and two points away from the playoff cut line. But a win on Wednesday would put the team only one game away from the Open Cup final.
“For us it’s our goal to go far in the [Open Cup] competition,” defender Lamine Sané said. “We want to win. We need to play like we did last time. We did well, I think we just need more chances. This is a very good team and we’re playing at home, so we have to be focused.”
Although defender João Moutinho has practiced with the team throughout the last week, coach James O’Connor said it would be “risky” to play him against New York City. Midfielder Cristian Higuita continues to battle a hamstring injury as well, but with defender Robin Jansson and midfielder Sacha Kljestan returning from red card suspensions, O’Connor will have an almost-full roster heading into Wednesday’s match.
To O’Connor, Orlando’s depth and ability to rotate off the bench is one of its most important tools available to help handle quick turnarounds between games.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Philadelphia saw two goals created by players who came off the bench for the Lions. Nani entered the game at the start of the second half and set up the team’s first goal, curling a free kick that Dwyer flicked in with the back of his head. Patiño got to work even faster, scoring on his very first touch of the game only seconds after taking the field.
“When you go through the volume of games that we’re currently going through, it’s very important that the team stays together and that people understand that you’re not going to play every minute of every game,” O’Connor said. “So when your number is called, you need to step up and make sure you’re prepared to give what the team needs.”
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