The 2021 MLS season is in full swing and next up for New York City FC is a trip south to face Orlando City SC.
For this edition on of ‘The Away End’ we spoke to Julia Poe, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel that covers both Orlando City SC and the Orlando Pride.
Hi Julia, thanks so much for speaking with us, how long have you been covering Orlando City?
I’ve been covering the Lions since July 2019.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
Apologies to NYCFC fans — but definitely that crazy penalty shootout playoff match against NYCFC last season. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see a more ridiculous, high-octane moment than a field player saving a game-winning penalty kick.
Looking at the 2021 season, the club acquired Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato but also loaned out striker Daryl Dike to Barnsley. How have things been for Orlando in the final third during these early weeks?
Pato suffered a knee injury in the home opener and underwent surgery this week, so he’s not been able to contribute much for the Lions so far this season. Tesho Akindele currently holds the starting striker role, and he scored in the opening seconds of last week’s match against Cincinnati. The team got out to a bit of a slow start, but Nani helped to kickstart scoring the last two matches.
Although the absence of their two starting strikers is obviously impactful in the final third, the Lions often produce a high volume of their goals through wingers like Nani and Chris Mueller.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja is well respected in MLS for his work with FC Dallas. How would you evaluate his time with Orlando?
Pareja’s impact in Orlando can’t be overstated. He’s forged a strong relationship with every player on the pitch, and those bonds are carrying over directly into this season after he kept nearly the entire roster intact. A ton of the team’s success comes from the work of EVP of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi on assembling the roster, and Pareja gave those players confidence and freedom on the pitch. The main hurdle this year is continuing that success after a massive turnaround for the club in 2020.
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
The Lions only allowed one goal so far this season, which came on the road against Sporting Kansas City from a rare turnover by Antonio Carlos. Despite the injury absences of starters Robin Jansson and João Moutinho, this backline has been cohesive and consistent to start the year. The Lions have yet to cede a goal at home this season, and with Moutinho and Jansson both returning to availability, the backline is continuing to build toward full strength.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
Orlando City’s scoring struggles seemed to come to an end against FC Cincinnati last week, but the 3-0 win also came against a side that has ceded ten goals in three games so far this year. The Lions are still working to build toward the “ruthlessness” Pareja expects from his team in final third finishing, so New York will need to limit their scoring opportunities to capitalize on any lingering rustiness in finishing.
If you were to identify the team’s danger-man, who would that be?
Mauricio Pereyra is nicknamed the Maestro for a reason. He was only available for 60 minutes last week, but he’ll be closer to 90-minute fit this week. He elevates every single attacking player. His ability to break lines and spark quick plays on goal is dangerous and extremely hard to guard, so he’ll be a player of interest for every Lions opponent this season.
And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to the city in the future, are there any particular attractions you’d suggest?
Obviously, Orlando is best known for its theme parks, so a stop at Disney or Universal seems sort of necessary if you’re coming through town. If that’s not your thing, there are a ton of fun options downtown like the Central Florida Ale Trail, Lake Eola Park, Orlando Magic games and shows at the Dr. Phillip’s Center. I’m also partial to the aquarium!
Watch New York City FC take on Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium this coming Saturday, May 8 at 6 PM ET on ESPN.