Orlando City: Under Oscar Pareja, Lions are for real

MLS, Orlando City, Oscar Pareja (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MLS, Orlando City, Oscar Pareja (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Orlando City have been the laughing stock of MLS during their five years in the league. But now, under new head coach Oscar Pareja, they are for real.

Entering the 2020 season, there was hope that Orlando City would finally have some stability and structure. A team that has lurched from coach to coach, star player to star player, all the while having never even qualified for the playoffs in their five years of existence, the Lions have rarely had much continuity and self-awareness.

Now, however, they are headed up by one of the greatest coaches in modern Major League Soccer history. A man renowned for his tactical instruction, his development of young players, and his acute philosophies and culture-instilling behaviour.

Oscar Pareja has revolutionised Orlando City, and now, just months after his arrival, they are here to stay.

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The former FC Dallas head coach has immediately instilled a well-drilled and highly executed 4-2-3-1 system. Chris Mueller and Nani are excellent on either flank, the full-backs comprise one of the best pairs in the league, while Oriol Rossell has been excellent in a holding role in front a backline that held the best attack in MLS to just nine shots and one goal last week.

That performance against Los Angeles FC, which eventually ended in Nani righting his penalty miss in normal time to secure the shootout victory and his team’s place in the semi-finals, was a statement outing by Orlando City. Against the best team in the league, the dominant side that has swept past all before them, Orlando controlled the match. They dominated possession, pressed high, stifled the LAFC frontline, and created the better chances. In the end, they were unlucky to have to need a last-gasp equaliser.

Pareja, following the match, said that he and the team entered the MLS is Back Tournament, in which they are yet to lose, with a winning mentality as they looked to establish the tone for the remainder of the season. Speaking to ESPN, he said:

"“We came up with a mentality of not just coming to play in the tournament. We came to set the tone for the season, and be the protagonist, because they can do it. So I think we’re mentally in a place that’s absorbed that. I see a change in that since the very beginning of the season, and that change is probably increasing their confidence.”"

Pareja has made is quite clear. He intended to use the MLS is Back Tournament as a chance to build a culture in a previously shaky and unstable club. And thus far, he has done precisely that. Orlando are still yet to lose, have scored several late goals to earn draws and victories, a sign of their resilience and spirit, and are now on the verge of making their first-ever final and winning their first-ever trophy.

Next. Orlando City Vs LAFC: 3 things we learned. dark

Under Oscar Pareja, the Lions are for real, both in the MLS is Back Tournament and beyond. This is an excellent team and they will be very difficult to stop.