Orlando City looks to carry unbeaten streak through visit to New York Red Bulls and into international break

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Orlando City aims to remain undefeated through the first FIFA international break of the 2021 season with a positive result on the road against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

The Lions will look to notch their third straight win of the season when they kick off at Red Bull Arena at 1 p.m. The match will be broadcast on WRBW-65 and Lion Nation TV.

After picking up a draw and a win on the road against Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United, the Lions are aiming to continue their road success in their third away match of the season.

“At the end, the players are the ones who execute the job, and the credit goes to them,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “[It’s] a group of players who have been strong every day. They are trying to get better, and in this case defensively demanding to each other what we need to do in order to get the results.”

The Lions’ success throughout the season’s start has been powered by the team’s defensive effort. Orlando City currently leads the league in defense, allowing only two goals and recording four shutouts.

This stringent performance came despite a series of injuries along the backline, which caused starters Robin Jansson, Ruan and João Moutinho to rotate in and out of the lineup. The team has played three different combination of defenders in the past three games. Ruan and Moutinho both remain questionable for Saturday’s match.

The Lions’ defense will need to continue its stalwart streak as they face the Red Bulls’ energetic midfield. Despite a two-game losing skid, the Red Bulls midfielders have consistently found the net this season, bolstered by the team’s youngest star — 18-year-old Caden Clark.

The midfielder already bagged three goals so far this season, and all of his goals have been scored on his home pitch.

Both the backline and the midfield will be tasked with slowing down the young star as the front line still works to find its rhythm without strikers Daryl Dike and Alexandre Pato.

“The forwards, myself included, have been kind of up and down at times,” striker Tesho Akindele said. “But our defense has always been that backbone giving us the time to find our feet.”

The Lions will play their second straight match without their captain as winger Nani serves the second match of a suspension earned during the team’s victory against D.C. United.

The captain was retroactively assigned a two-game suspension by the MLS disciplinary committee following a collision with a referee during a scuffle at the end of the Lions’ 1-0 win in D.C.

The suspension removed the Lions’ leading goal scorer from the pitch after Nani tallied in three consecutive games. But the suspension also paved the way for new addition Silvester van der Water to make his first start last week against Toronto.

The Dutch winger quickly made an impact, assisting Akindele for the game-winning goal in the victory. Against the Red Bulls, van der Water could be a valuable asset for the Lions to pick up their second road win of the year.

After Saturday’s match, the Lions will take two weeks to rest along with the rest of the league for the international window — except for midfielder Sebas Méndez and Pedro Gallese, who will get on a plane Sunday morning to head out to international duty for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

For the Lions, entering this break without a loss on their record will be an important step as the team chases the top spot in the Eastern Conference rankings. But Akindele emphasized that the team isn’t letting itself focus on its record.

“I mean obviously being unbeaten is great, but you don’t want to focus on that,” Akindele said. “We’re just focused on playing good soccer [and] sticking to our system.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.