For the first time since in its MLS history, Orlando City is a playoff-bound team, beginning its quest for MLS Cup with a matchup against New York City FC on Saturday (12 pm ET | TV & streaming info). As is always the case in the playoffs, the task of performing is a tall one, and even though Orlando are newcomers to the competition, head coach Oscar Pareja feels his side has plenty of experience to make their first time in the playoffs a successful one.
Thanks to the MLS is Back Tournament that marked a return to play during the coronavirus pandemic, Orlando got their first taste at knockout soccer. During the team's run to the final, where they lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers, Pareja recognized the occasion of the team's first win or go home game, and that it would come in handy for his aspirational side.
"Those [are] games that you win or you’re out," Pareja told media members during a press conference ahead of the NYCFC game. "I mentioned to the players, I said, 'Boys, you’re going to remember this moment of pressure and tension and anxiousness when we are [in the] playoffs, so you’ll be prepared from now to this moment because we are going to bring these moments often to the club.'"
Knockout experience will not be the only kind that Pareja and company will rely on. The head coach noted that his side played NYCFC twice during the regular season, which gave them the opportunity to get to know their opponent.
"We do understand their model, the way they play and the mentality they have," Pareja said. "We’re here because I think both teams had done a good job during the season. We will have, as always, a good preparation and what is also opportunities that we can have on New York and try to break their defense and at the same time, they have been scoring lately. How can we control? They have good players and we will try to match them up and try with our blocks, in our way to defend [and] control the team."
That combination allows Orlando to come into the playoffs with some confidence as one of the Eastern Conference's best teams in 2020. Ending the regular season in fourth place, coupled with their run at the MLS is Back Tournament, it has easily been the best year in the team's MLS history. It also allows the team to feel less confident in their playoff debut, but Pareja noted that experience is not everything.
"You hope that those moments can bring good memories and experiences that will help us to gain confidence so that’s the desire," Pareja said. "I hope that that can help us, but as always, I go there thinking that you can take whatever from the memories and from the present but you gotta be concentrated that Saturday and make sure that 90 plus minutes can bring us the victory."