ORLANDO, Fla. -- No distractions, no excuses, no time to waste -- and definitely no revenge missions.
That was the gospel, according to Orlando City SC head coach Jason Kreis, ahead of Sunday’s Heineken Rivalry Week showdown with his old team, New York City FC (7 p.m. ET, FS1).
This will be the first time Kreis faces the club he led through its expansion year in 2015 – and that summarily dismissed him last November – but he insists Orlando’s continued push for the playoff picture is far more important than any personal thoughts he may have in going up against his former employer.
“No, there’s nothing extra -- and, regardless of if there is on my part, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can motivate the players to be in line with my motivations,” Kreis said. “So, for me, it has to be just another game. It happens to be a game against a very good opponent, but it’s another home match for us in which we’re looking to improve.
“From my point of view, it’s simply another opportunity to show improvement and to hopefully get three points in a critical time in our season. It’s not about me and it’s not about the opponent.”
Kreis’ attention on his current team has been very much the focus all week, with no hint that what happened to him in New York is any part of his thought process. The best revenge is living well, after all, and the Lions -- who currently sit seventh in the East -- can do that with three points on Sunday.
That tightly-focused intensity continued as Kreis analyzed a lot about his former group as it gets set to take on his new one.
“I have some ideas about tendencies of individual players, but they are playing a different system this year, with a different manager who’s doing a fantastic job,” Kreis said. “We just know it’s a game against a dangerous opponent with dangerous players on the field who can hurt you at any moment, so we need to be ready for the team, not the individuals.”
The only possible regret in Kreis’ voice – the hint of what might have been – came when he looked in more detail at what New York City have achieved this year under first-year coach Patrick Vieira, with Designated Players David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo now all fully fit and firing on all cylinders.
“They have been together for a good amount of time now,” Kreis said. “Their Designated Players – the most important players – have fully transitioned to the league now, and they have a guy who happens to be the leading goal-scorer in the league. It’s a team that likes to build out of the back, that likes to pressure the ball when they lose it, so we’ll be prepared for those things and hopefully be able to break that down.”
Villa is tied for the league lead with 16 goals in 25 matches, after finding the net 18 times last year -- and Orlando City's defense has been shaky at times this season. The task will be a big one for the Lions' back four.
“David is a talented, talented player -- technically, tactically, his positioning, his ability to score the goals that he gets,” Kreis said. “He scores a high percentage of his chances and he’s always in and around things, so we’ve got to be aware of him and get the right amount of pressure on guys like Pirlo and Lampard to make sure the service isn’t there.”
Kreis’ demeanor might be an accurate assessment of the coach’s mindset, but it isn’t necessarily shared by his players. Former Lions stalwart Lewis Neal, now the captain of Orlando City B in USL and a TV pundit, was quick to point out the difference.
“From the players’ point of view, there is no other game in the fixture list that you want to win more,” Neal said. “There is no point beating around the bush. Whether you left on a sour note or not, you want to show everyone what they are missing. There is pride at stake.
“Having said that, with coach Kreis you definitely get the feeling it is not about him. He will lead the team out with great pride but he will just want them to go out and get three points. He is remarkably focused about it. His main job may be in persuading the players to treat it like any other game.”
Several players acknowledged that there's likely to be an extra edge to Sunday's proceedings at Camping World Stadium.
“We can all say it is just a regular game, but there is definitely something on the line as far as when you go up against your old team,” goalkeeper Joe Bendik said. “We are aware of the situation and we want to play for him and get him that ‘W’.”
Midfielder Brek Shea was another player to point to the extra element at play for their head coach -- and for assistants C.J. Brown and Miles Joseph, who also were at New York City FC under Kreis.
“It is a huge game for us, but an even bigger one for the coaching staff,” Shea said. “There is a lot around it and it is a game we want to win really bad. And, if we win, it gives us four points in a week against three really good teams.”