O’Con­nor ea­ger to start work with young ros­ter

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jordan Cul­ver Pro Soc­cer USA

CHICAGO — Or­lando City coach James O’Con­nor can’t wait to start pre­sea­son train­ing.

The Lions get to work Jan. 21 at IMG Academy in Braden­ton — the same place the team went for a week of ses­sions in the second half of a dis­as­trous 2018 sea­son. O’Con­nor said the team will be there for about two weeks.

O’Con­nor has stressed the im­por­tance of pre­sea­son since his ar­rival at Or­lando City, and with 10 new play­ers — so far — on Or­lando City’s ros­ter, O’Con­nor has his work cut out for him build­ing team chem­istry.

“That’s the beauty of how we op­er­ate,” O’Con­nor said at the MLS Su­perDraft in Chicago after se­lect­ing 21-year-old striker San­ti­ago Patiño. “Pre­sea­son, it’s have at it, lads. Ev­ery­one will come in, ev­ery­one will work re­ally hard and the ones who work re­ally hard and do well will be in­volved with the first team. The ones who don’t won’t be. It’s re­ally sim­ple.”

The new ad­di­tions to the ros­ter av­er­age 22 years and 10 months old. So far, Or­lando City has jet­ti­soned 13 play­ers from O’Con­nor

last sea­son’s ros­ter. A club source con­firmed to Pro Soc­cer USA that Or­lando City is still pur­su­ing 33-year-old Brazil­ian mid­fielder Diego Ribas, but no deal has been worked out yet. Ribas re­mains un­der con­tract with his cur­rent club, Fla­mengo.

There are still two rounds left in the MLS draft. Those will take place via con­fer­ence call on Mon­day. Find­ing value in the first two rounds of the draft is dif­fi­cult enough — it’s even harder to do so in the later rounds.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited for the pre­sea­son,” O’Con­nor said. “To get in and we have a lot of work to do in pre­sea­son and it’ll be ex­cit­ing. We’ve got some hard work ahead of us, but I think with the way we’re headed, we’re ex­cited and we can’t wait for it to start.

“We want com­pe­ti­tion all over the field. I think that’s some­thing we want to start the sea­son, where we’ve got a lot of com­pe­ti­tion at not just the for­ward line, but at all the po­si­tions. That’s what I’m say­ing with pre­sea­son. Ini­tially, when you’re meet­ing play­ers, they all want to know — the younger play­ers, es­pe­cially — ‘Will I be in­volved with the first team?’ I keep telling them, ‘Your pre­sea­son will dic­tate that.’”

O’Con­nor and new ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of soc­cer op­er­a­tions Luiz Muzzi have made it clear that Or­lando City is fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing play­ers. Muzzi was frus­trated Or­lando City couldn’t sign Patiño as a Home­grown player and said he’s de­ter­mined to make sure Or­lando City doesn’t miss out on Homegrowns in the fu­ture.

Muzzi said Or­lando City re­ceived of­fers for the No. 3 pick but re­fused them in order to se­cure Patiño. He added he wants to reach out to other play­ers who have come through Or­lando City’s de­vel­op­ment academy and en­sure they feel wanted by invit­ing them to come train with the club.

“We need our guys,” Muzzi said. “We need our lo­cal guys. We value [Patiño] a lot more than what­ever GAM, TAM, what­ever. We need our guys. We need our guys to stay in town.”

O’Con­nor said draft­ing Patino made a state­ment about Or­lando City’s fu­ture plans.

“I think we want to make sure we send a mes­sage to all the other Homegrowns that are in col­lege and that are out there that we are very in­ten­tional about try­ing to de­velop play­ers and bring play­ers through our sys­tem,” O’Con­nor said. Or­lando City off­sea­son ad­di­tions

KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS

Or­lando City coach James O’Con­nor, right, gives striker Dom Dwyer in­struc­tions dur­ing the 2018 sea­son. O’Con­nor said he can’t wait to men­tor the re­vamped Lions’ ros­ter dur­ing pre­sea­son train­ing.

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