Orlando Sentinel

OK, now, Orlando City. Let’s see you do it again!

- Mike Bianchi LINE UP AND DO IT AGAIN! Email me at mbianchi@ orlandosen­tinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWri­tes and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

Back in the day, my old high school football coach would have us run a play over and over again in practice, and even when we would run it perfectly several times in a row, he would still blow his whistle and yell out, ”LINE UP AND DO IT AGAIN!!!”

Coach Breeden’s directive is now my directive to Orlando City as the Lions begin the 2021 season on Saturday against heated, hated rival Atlanta United.

No doubt, the first season of the ”scar Pareja coaching era was amazing. The Lions advanced to the finals of the MLS Is Back tournament and then qualified for the MLS playoffs for the first time in club history.

But guess what?

As Coach Breeden used to say, It’s time to, “LINE UP AND DO IT AGAIN!!!”

Except do it even better this time.

Train even harder.

Play even smarter.

Run your plays with even more precision.

Instead of finishing fourth in the East, finish first in the East.

Instead of just making the playoffs, win the dad-gummed playoffs!

“It’s important to be consistent,” Pareja said earlier this week. “Last year, we had a lot of joy and achieved many objectives, but at the same time, we fell short of the final prize. And that’s something we want so badly to give the community and the club. With the energy, desire, dreams and commitment we have, we expect to keep it going this season and compete for first place.”

There’s an old saying: “If you’re persistent, you will get it. If you’re consistent, you will

keep it.” In Pareja’s first year, the Lions were certainly persistent. He took over what had been the worst franchise in the league over the previous five seasons and changed the entire psyche and loser’s mentality that enveloped the locker room.

Pareja didn’t just change the style of play, he altered the way of thinking. He inspired the players to be protagonis­ts instead of pessimists. He turned a hapless, hopeless fan base back into the loud, proud supporter groups they were in the exciting early days of expansion.

But can the Lions maintain their edge and keep their hunger and build upon last year’s breakout season? You know what they say: ”Do it once, it’s a fluke. Do it twice, it’s a trend. Do it three times, it’s a habit.”

Can Orlando City make the playoffs a trend this season? To accomplish it, the club will have to do it with an entirely different set of expectatio­ns. Last year, they were the chip-ontheir-shoulder underdogs who came from nowhere to make the playoffs. This year, they are the target-on-their-back front-runners with immense expectatio­ns of making a run in the playoffs.

As historic as last year was, hopefully Orlando City will be fueled by how the season ended

— with a frustratin­g, bitter 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals during a game where the Lions completely lost their composure.

Remember? Just a week prior, Orlando City pulled off a miracle in the first round of the playoffs, beating NYCFC despite playing a man down for the final 43 minutes of regulation and through two 15-minute overtimes before winning the game on the second round of penalty kicks. And they somehow, someway did it with backup centerback Rodrigo Schlegel playing goalkeeper for the first time since his boyhood days on the sandlots of Argentina.

But the very next week, the wheels came off against New England. Orlando City veteran Mauricio Pereyra was red-carded and ejected after he came in spikes-up and gouged a New England player in the back of the calf. Orlando City players erupted, including team captain Nani, who vehemently argued and even made physical contact with an official. Nani, who also missed a penalty kick during the game, was in tears after the loss.

When I asked him earlier this week how long it took him to get over that season-ending defeat to New England, Pareja replied: “I still carry the pain with me. You must learn from (losses) and use them as motivation to help encourage your players to get better. The message to the players during the preseason was that this is a continuati­on of our journey and we must learn from what happened against New England.”

Let’s do it, then.

How about it, Coach Pareja? How about it, Coach Breeden? Let’s

 ?? VERNON BRYANT/TNS ?? Can Orlando City head coach Óscar Pareja lead the Lions to a second consecutiv­e playoff appearance this season?
VERNON BRYANT/TNS Can Orlando City head coach Óscar Pareja lead the Lions to a second consecutiv­e playoff appearance this season?
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