New York City Football Club face off against Orlando City on Wednesday night.
Hi Taylor, thanks for speaking with us. How would you evaluate the team’s start to the season?
With a third of our 2023 Major League Soccer regular season now elapsed, it’s been a disappointing campaign so far. After a critically acclaimed off-season recruitment drive, this excitement and anticipation hasn’t translated onto the field with results or performances. Granted, roster rebuilds and acclimating several new faces at once always require a degree of patience. But right now, supporter patience is wearing very thin, especially compounded by the fact we have already been eliminated from two cup competitions too – firstly, the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League, albeit narrowly via away goals against a tournament favorite, and very disappointingly, failing to our Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title at the very first hurdle.
The dependable Robin Jansson has shown signs of age, Mauricio Pereyra has been struggling to impact games like he’s done previously, new Designated Player Martín Ojeda is still adjusting to a new league, and most surprisingly, star man Facundo Torres has been on the fringes of the action, only registering his first MLS assist last weekend at Columbus Crew. Our most consistent players have been Pedro Gallese, for me the best goalkeeper in MLS, and surprisingly, rookie centre forward Duncan McGuire.
Last earning consecutive MLS victories back in August 2022, our inability to put winning streaks together and super inconsistent form has been hard to swallow, especially considering Lions supporters, and onlookers from afar, expected Orlando City SC to really kick on in 2023, hungry for more (as our home opener tifo said) after successfully securing our first major trophy (U.S. Open Cup) as an MLS club, last season.
What are your hopes for the rest of the campaign under Oscar Pareja?
Oscar Pareja’s aim must be qualifying for the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, finishing as high up the Eastern Conference as possible, and ensuring a post-season run isn’t one and done, as it has been the last two seasons. Reaching the post-season in each of his three seasons in charge thus far, we only qualified by the skin of our teeth on 2022 MLS Decision Day, with a valiant comeback victory against Columbus Crew. Granted, the new playoff qualification format makes reaching the playoffs easier, but Lions supporters don’t want to see Orlando City SC stumble in via a play-in round but rather earn it instead.
As you speak to us, supporters are growing increasingly doubtful over Oscar Pareja’s abilities as head coach. Whether he’ll last the full 2023 season is a matter of speculation currently. Persisting with pragmatic game plans and tactics throughout 2022 and into 2023, the stuff he’s managed to forge a successful career upon, the Wilf Family’s July 2021 buyout of the club, their subsequent cash injection, and our 2022 U.S. Open Cup triumph all mean that expectations are higher than ever before with Orlando City SC supporters expecting their club to play attractive, winning soccer. Despite the respected and well-liked Oscar Pareja delivering success like no previous MLS iteration of Orlando City SC could, there is currently no room for sentiment with City candidly struggling to achieve consistently strong performances and results.
Who would you identify as Orlando’s dangerman?
In terms of goalscoring, our current dangerman is Nebraskan sharpshooter, Duncan McGuire. The sixth overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft, the 21-year-old came off the bench to rescue an unlikely 2-2 comeback draw, in stoppage time, at Columbus Crew last weekend. Clearly a natural-born finisher, the Creighton University product has been a shining light in a disappointing campaign so far. Currently our top scorer with 4 goals, three of these have come on the road, proving that this rookie certainly isn’t fazed by the step up in quality to Major League Soccer, much like Cyle Larin, Chris Mueller, and Daryl Dike before him.
What do you think will be the decisive factor in Wednesday’s clash?
For me, it’s whoever grabs the first goal. The Orlando City SC squad should feel buoyed from their second-half fightback against Columbus Crew in pressurized and challenging circumstances. When Orlando City SC have conceded the first goal this season, supporters have felt like it’s been a mountain to climb – especially considering we don’t score many goals.
And for any fans that may be in Orlando for the game, are there any good spots you’d suggest they check out?
For any NYCFC supporters in town, they’ll know that Orlando is the theme park capital of the world. Even if they don’t have time to visit Walt Disney World, CityWalk at Universal Studios is free to the public and comprises an amazing plethora of bars, restaurants, and other amusements in a fun-filled atmosphere. Closer to Exploria Stadium, Broken Strings Brewery is a popular taproom serving local ales on West Church Street. This is where many Orlando City SC supporters hang out pre-game and march the short distance to Exploria to the beat of drums and of course, purple pyrotechnics.
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