(Jesse Gonzalez photo courtesy Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)
After serving as host for Major League Soccer’s showcase mid-season event, Orlando City SC resumes the business of trying to secure its first playoff berth in club history Saturday night when it hosts FC Dallas.
Aside from the 40-minute lightning delay that pushed back the start of Wednesday’s matchup between the MLS All-Stars and Spain’s Atletico Madrid, everything went according to plan for the host, who had a sellout at Exploria Stadium for the match and received glowing reviews for the week-long calendar of community events that put the city and the league in its best light.
The challenge for the Lions (7-5-11) is now finding a way to retain that enthusiasm, something that could happen with a playoff push to go alongside their U.S. Open Cup run that continues Tuesday night at home versus MLS Cup champion Atlanta United.
Orlando is ninth in the Eastern Conference with 11 matches remaining and seven points behind a barnstorming New England squad that was once in last in the conference. The Lions learned just how big that gap is between themselves and the Revolution after absorbing a 4-1 defeat to them July 27.
James O’Connor’s side did make a move to relieve some of the playmaking burden on Nani with Tuesday’s signing of Uruguayan midfielder Mauricio Pereyra as the club’s third Designated Player. Pereyra, who will be eligible once his paperwork clears the league offices, totaled 23 goals in 154 matches over the past seven seasons with Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League and appeared in 28 Europa League matches.
“As a Club we are always looking to strengthen our roster and Mauricio fits the mold of what we look for in a new acquisition,” Orlando City SC EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said. “We have important matches on the horizon both in league play and U.S. Open Cup competition, and we feel Mauricio will make an impact for us as we close out the 2019 campaign.”
FC Dallas (9-6-8) currently occupies the sixth spot in the Western Conference on 33 points, but everyone in playoff contention has at least one match in hand. After recording three clean sheets in their first 19 matches, the Hoops matched that total in their last four before the All-Star break, claiming seven points in that run after playing Real Salt Lake to a scoreless stalemate July 27.
Keeper Jesse Gonzlaez has all six shutouts and totaled five saves against RSL, the best among them coming in first-half stoppage time when he pawed away a header by Marcelo Silva off a corner kick.
“Jesse has always had talent,” coach Luchi González told the club’s official website. “I just continually see him mature and develop and train well to improve his distribution, to improve his reactions and saves, where he’s giving up rebounds. I’m really happy with his progress, we need him to continue to contribute for us to get as far as we can this season.”
The Hoops are seeking back-to-back road wins for the first time since May 25 and 30, 2018. They ended a six-match unbeaten spell outside Frisco with a 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City on July 20.
FC Dallas has yet to concede a goal to Orlando City in the all-time series, outscoring the Lions 8-0 while claiming three victories and a draw. Gonzalez made five saves in last year’s 2-0 win as goals by Santiago Mosquera and Victor Ulloa six minutes apart midway through the second half separated the sides.