Orlando City will be eager to spark its offense on Saturday at 7 p.m. as the team returns home to host FC Cincinnati.
The team is still seeking its first win of the year after a slow start on offense. The Lions couldn’t find a goal in their home opener, then scored only once in a draw on the road in Kansas City despite two called-back goals and a slew of chances in the box.
When the team returns to play in front of its fans — who sold out the next three matches with Exploria Stadium at 50% capacity — it will be eager to kick-start the goal-scoring that highlighted the successful 2020 season.
“We had the chances to to put the ball in the back of the net and get the big prize,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “Getting the three points is obviously what you play for. We’re missing that final touch, and I can’t lie, it is a concern.”
Against FC Cincinnati, the Lions will face a promising opponent to ramp up their scoring once again.
The visitors finished with one of the most porous backlines in the Eastern Conference in 2020, allowing 36 goals in 23 games. So far this season, that statistic hasn’t improved for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati struggled with defense in the opening minutes of the game, ceding five goals to New York City FC last weekend in a stunning shutout. Although the loss reflected Cincinnati’s defensive concerns, Pareja also warned that it could serve as an impetus for Cincinnati.
“We still expect a game that is going to be full of energy from a team who wants to bounce back,” Pareja said.
The Lions will also be buoyed by the return of star playmaker Mauricio Pereyra.
The designated player’s keen decision-making creates the build-up leading to goal-scoring plays, serving as the engine that fuels top scorers such as Chris Mueller and Nani. Pereyra was the team leader in assists with eight during the 2020 season, but even those statistics don’t reflect the impact he makes on the offense.
After missing the first two matches of the season while serving a red-card suspension from the 2020 playoffs, Pereyra’s return will be a welcome boost for the Lions to increase their chances in front of the net.
“Mauricio is a very important player for our roster,” Pareja said. “He’s a very important person for our group. We’re delighted to see him available again for the games, and surely he will improve our attack and the way we play.”
Orlando City players are also returning from the injured list. Defender João Moutinho — who’s been sidelined since last August with injuries — will be available this weekend along with new winger Silvester van der Water.
However, the Lions are still shorthanded in the striker unit. Starter Alexandre Pato is recovering from a right knee injury incurred in the home opener, and star Daryl Dike will remain on loan to Barnsley through the Championship playoffs in May.
Despite those absences, the remaining striker group feels confident in the team’s ability to ramp up scoring this weekend.
“It just comes with time,” striker Tesho Akindele said. “Finishing is honestly the easy part. If we weren’t creating chances, I’d be nervous, but I have face in myself and faith in all of my teammates up front that we can score these chances.”