Orlando City head into Wednesday’s US Open Cup final on the brink of history.
The Lions go into the showpiece match on home turf at Exploria Stadium looking to secure their first trophy since joining Major League Soccer in 2015.
Orlando are favorites to do so, as well, with USL outfit Sacramento Republic the only obstacle now standing in their way.
However, Orlando are only the latest MLS team to go up against Sacramento, who have already dumped out the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City in this season’s competition.
The hosts know better than to underestimate their opponents.
“The way we operate and the way I have recognized this sport in all my years as a player and as a coach is with much respect for any opponent, whether it’s in the paper or the opinions of people that think they are better than us or not,” head coach Oscar Pareja told reporters.
“I think our responsibility is to prepare a game professionally and try to do our best to be at our maximum for the opponent you have in front. For me, the context doesn’t exist. The only thing that exists is the present and the present is that there is a match tomorrow for a Cup and we are going to be ready.”
Pareja’s message clearly resonates with his players, with team captain Mauricio Pereyra adding: “It doesn’t matter if they are from USL or they are from MLS or Premier League, it doesn’t matter. Always, the most important thing for a soccer player is to respect the rival that you have in front – knowing that the desire we have to win this trophy they have too. They will fight for it.”
Given their lower-league status, Sacramento will likely have the support of most neutrals on the night. However, that won’t be the case inside Exploria Stadium, which is expecting a sell-out crowd on Wednesday for what is arguably the biggest game in Orlando City history.
That in itself could add extra pressure with so much expectation from the home crowd. But Orlando striker Tesho Akindele actually believes it’ll work in his team’s favor, helping them block out any external noise from those wanting to see the Lions fail.
“A lot of people around the country may be rooting for Sacramento, but in the stadium, everybody is rooting for us,” said Akindele
“Come game time we’re not on our phones, we’re not getting phone calls or hearing from social media. All we feel is 99% of the people at our stadium supporting us and I feel that makes it easy to tune out whatever expectations there may be about that history in the tournament.”
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