Orlando City SC head coach Oscar Pareja has absolute faith the Lions will deliver on a playoff spot ahead of the visit of Toronto FC.
Orlando fell to a 1-0 defeat to Atlanta United last time out, leaving them three points above the chasing pack and under pressure, but Pareja is choosing to remain upbeat.
Reflecting on their defeat to the Five Stripes, Pareja said: “It is unfortunate at this point and especially with this rival we came up with this result, but I have to say the boys put all the effort there.
“They have been pushing and I back them up 100 per cent. This is a very competitive team, this team is very advanced and this is a team that has shown that they can compete.
“I love them. I am proud of them. We will fight. Today is sour, but we will fight.
“This is a team that I love. This is our team, these are my boys and I love them. We are going to make it happen.”
Toronto, meanwhile, sit 13th in the Eastern Conference after they suffered consecutive defeats to CF Montreal and Atlanta, and goalkeeper Quentin Westberg knows they must raise their standards.
“On the one side there’s mentality, on the other side there’s skills and everything that you do with the ball. It’s not being a magician, it’s wanting the ball even when, yes, it’s a difficult situation.” he said.
“Right now, we’re not where we want to be, and the standards of this club are way higher.”
Toronto are seven points adrift of the playoffs with just nine to play for, but Westberg is refusing to give up on an extended campaign, adding: “There’s a lot of things that go into consideration, but as long as there’s hope – it’s a French saying – as long as there’s hope, there’s life.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Orlando City SC – Facundo Torres
Torres’ tally of six goals this term is only bettered by Ercan Kara (nine) among Orlando players, while no Lions man has matched his tally of seven assists. The hosts need big performances to see through their playoff bid, and he could be the man to provide them.
Toronto FC – Federico Bernardeschi
Bernardeschi has scored eight times in his first 10 MLS matches, but five of those goals have come from the penalty spot. Bernardeschi has now scored a penalty in three straight matches, and would surely relish the chance to become the first MLS player to ever do so in four successive games.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Orlando City have not lost any of their last five matches against Toronto (W3 D2), including a 1-0 road win on May 14.
– Prior to the run of five straight game unbeaten, the Lions had avoided defeat just three times in their first 11 matches against Toronto (W2 D1 L8).
– Orlando City’s 1-0 loss to Atlanta United on Wednesday was their eighth defeat in 15 home games this season, the most in MLS. Entering this year, the Lions had lost only eight of their previous 38 home MLS matches (W18 D12) dating back to May 2019.
– After losing just one of their previous eight games, Toronto have lost consecutive matches, conceding four goals in each defeat. Only three teams in MLS history have conceded four times in three straight games, most recently FC Cincinnati in October 2021.
– Orlando’s loss to Atlanta on Wednesday was just the sixth time they have failed to score this season. The Lions haven’t been shut out in consecutive matches under Oscar Pareja, last failing to score in two straight games in August 2019 against Atlanta and San Jose.