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A 5-3 loss to D.C. United to start July still leaves a bitter taste for Orlando City.
This, however, is a different team going into Sunday’s rematch. The Lions (8-8-6, 30 points) are riding the euphoria of advancing to their first U.S. Open Cup final earlier in the week with a 5-1 victory against the N.Y. Red Bulls.
César Araujo scored twice, his first professional goals.
“It was incredible,” said midfielder Junior Urso, who assisted Facundo Torres on Orlando City’s fourth goal. “I don’t know how to explain our feelings.”
The Lions want to retrain that energy but can’t fixate too much on the recent past. That triumph was at Exploria Stadium, where they’d lost handily on the Fourth of July to D.C. (5-12-3, 18 points).
Now they travel to Audi Field in hopes of capitalizing on this offensive awakening against the last-place team in the East.
The Lions were shut out in their last MLS game, a 1-0 loss at home to East-leading Philadelphia last weekend, but coach Oscar Pareja had changed tactics to give them a jolt.
Benji Michel shifted to center forward and he produced 1 goal and 1 assist in the Open Cup semifinal. He hasn’t had either in an MLS match since April 30 in a 2-1 win vs. Charlotte.
“It’s a really good feeling when you play a position again. I just felt free,” he said. “I played striker my whole life, in college ...
“I needed that goal. It’s been a while since I scored. Just to get on the scoresheet, I don’t care if it was a goal or an assist.”
Urso benefited from a position shift, too.
“He put me to play winger. It’s also a good idea,” he said of Pareja. “I know how to play and use my back to protect the ball.”
Their Open Cup final opponent, Sacramento Republic FC, can wait. That game won’t happen until Sept. 7.
D.C. United is what’s important on Sunday. The Lions will be playing their eighth game this month, and sixth in the last 18 days.
“I hope we do a good job there [at Audi Field] again like we did Wednesday,” Urso said. “They beat us 5-3 and, of course, we are not happy with that.”