Orlando City seeks win against D.C. United after snapping losing streak

·3 min read

Orlando City still is seeking its first win since Sept. 4, returning home to Exploria Stadium to begin the final push of its postseason race against D.C. United on Saturday.

The Lions snapped a four-game losing streak with a come-from-behind draw against Nashville SC on Wednesday night. Only three days later, the team is hunting for a much-needed win to bounce back from a free fall from second place in the conference table.

D.C. United offers another challenging hurdle — the team soared into a top spot in the conference during the middle third of the season. But with only a one-point margin separating the five spots directly above the postseason cutoff line, a win could quickly flip the script for the Lions.

The Lions will be bolstered by returning to their home pitch for the first time in three games.

“It’s great to be back; it’s great to be in front of our fans,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “With the proximity of the games and this chain of games away and the disappointment that we had during those matches, I think it’s great to be back home. To have our fans, it will help us. We need that energy.”

Wednesday night’s draw only earned Orlando City a single point, but winger Benji Michel said it felt like 30 for the Lions after a dismal run of four losses. Now the team is energized to carry that momentum into a win.

The Lions’ offense could have a different look depending on the availability of winger Chris Mueller and midfielder Andrés Perea.

Both players are returning from injuries — Mueller with tightness in his quad, Perea with an unspecified lower-body knock. Pareja described their status as “changing by the hour” and said he would decide Friday night whether either could feature in Saturday night’s match.

Mueller’s goal-scoring dropped off after a personal best year in 2020, but his activity and movement always provide a spark for the Lions in the attacking third. Perea’s distribution has become a steady staple for the team, providing more cohesive movement to increase the effectiveness of its possession.

Pareja said he’s “optimistic” to return both players against D.C. United. Once they are back, the Lions will be as close to fully fit as they can expect all year.

Striker Alexandre Pato is not expected to return as he struggles with continued unspecified injuries that are unrelated to the knee injury from the season opener. It had previously required surgery. Holding midfielder Uri Rosell also is struggling to return from an unspecified “muscular problem” and is uncertain for upcoming matches.

Still, Orlando City is close to full-strength. This increased availability has led to optimism in the locker room as players begin to jell again.

“Part of is that we’re finally getting our full team back,” Michel said. “No one wants to be sad. For me, I like to smile and be happy and I felt like I couldn’t do that just because we lost the game. But we all get our job is just to try to keep the mood in the locker room pretty light.”

After weeks of faltering against top opponents, the Orlando City backline will face another challenge with D.C. United.

D.C. United brings a high-powered offensive unit that scored 48 goals, second only to the top-ranked New England Revolution. Ola Kamara leads with 17 goals in 21 games.

Defense used to be the strongest suit for the Lions, who shut out four of their first six opponents. But injuries in the defensive midfield and suspensions along the backline disrupted the team’s consistency.

“Our responsibility defensively always is a collective effort,” Pareja said. “It was much better in the early games that are very strong. Our goal still is to improve and to have our goals [allowed] at zero and return to the team that consistency of being strong defensively. That will help us to get the results.”

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

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