From an MLS perspective, the first two quarterfinals of this year's Leagues Cup displayed a contrast in approaches.
Sporting Kansas City boss Peter Vermes opted for a younger starting XI, and the Western Conference frontrunner subsequently fell 6-1 to Club Leon. After Tuesday night's match, Vermes said he'd take the blame for the decisions, noting the challenges that fixture congestion presents. Meanwhile, Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer went with his first-choice lineup in a 3-0 win over Tigres UANL, addressing postgame how it was important to showcase their full quality.
But where does Orlando City SC boss Oscar Pareja land as his team prepares to host Santos Laguna in the final quarterfinal on Thursday evening at Exploria Stadium (7 pm ET | TUDN, ESPN+)?
“We have a full roster full of good players ready to compete,” Pareja said in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We’re trying to select a strong team that faces the rival in turn and that’s pretty much what you do. This semester has been a good testimony of that. It has been a very busy semester where we have probably one to two players who have not had minutes. We have them all available and just try to get a win in the game is important to us.”
Pareja didn’t tip his hand much there, except to say he doesn’t believe in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ team terminology as it pertains to his Lions.
“The players that will be on the field will always be important,” he said. “It’s not like we have a secondary roster or secondary team. We’re all the same team.”
One certainty is Daryl Dike won’t be participating against Santos Laguna. The US men's national team forward, who recently won the Gold Cup, is sidelined with tendinitis and a shoulder knock he’s had for the last few games, Pareja said.
“We want to make sure he’s fully healthy because the competition, he was busy in the summer and before that as well,” Pareja said. “We want to take care of the player too and just give priority to his health.”
While Pareja’s lineup will be debated until it gets announced Thursday night – and likely after, as well – Orlando City’s intentions in the Leagues Cup are crystal clear.
“We know it’s going to be a very competitive match. We are ready for it,” defender Joao Mountino said. “We’re going to take it very seriously as we do with every other match. It’s a competition that, if we win three games, we raise a trophy. So we are very excited to get going.”
While the Lions aim to win every competition they play in, the Leagues Cup, which consists of three knockout rounds, offers the quickest route to the first trophy in club history. They lost in the final of last year's MLS is Back Tournament, while their 2020 season ended a streak of five playoff-less seasons.
“I think always when you have a competition, in the beginning as a goal, you need to win everything in front of you. Now this is a [short tournament], but we know if we lose we are out. So the importance we give is to give everything in this game to go to the next phase,” midfielder Mauricio Pereyra said.
“Then of course, we are in a good spot now in the MLS [regular season] and the Supporters’ Shield, but we know that now this is just one game and it’s 90 minutes for us. In three games we can win a title and that is the goal for this team. Everything we play this year we will try to win it. This is the biggest goal.”