Orlando City SC hosts USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC in the US Open Cup Final on Wednesday as both teams attempt to lift the trophy and book a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot.
It’s been a long journey for the MLS side, defeating the New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC, Inter Miami, Philadelphia, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies to reach the final. Now, the team is on the verge of winning their first title since joining the American league in 2015 as an expansion side.
And head coach Oscar Pareja is not taking anything for granted.
“The last two years, they achieved as well things that haven't been achieved before here,” Pareja told Extratime’s Andrew Wiebe. “We have been trying to be protagonists of the league and not being a team who's in the bottom. It's not an easy task with all the challenges that we have this year. But still, the boys have found ways to get there and to be fighting for qualification spots [in playoffs].
“Now they have this opportunity to play their second final in three years, and a team that's never done that. I think they need a lot of credit on that part and that's what I recognize, that they're doing a fantastic job on overcoming things that sometimes people don't recognize.”
Orlando last reached a final in the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament, losing narrowly to the Portland Timbers. But now, they are back and ready to take on this new challenge.
“We have been very inconsistent, but we have a condition where I have to give credit to the players,” Pareja said. “We are adapting, we are reacting, we are finding our ways – not just to qualify, but dream for more.
“We're not the best team in the league, we're not among the best teams in the league. But we are a team with character and that's us. We'll fight with those tools. It's a long league, it's 34 games plus. The only thing that I have to say today is that we are in the qualification spot and we play in the Cup final. That's a lot for this group and we're proud.”
The team has overcome several challenges to the roster throughout the season, losing out on center back Antonio Carlos, forward Alexandre Pato, and winger Gaston Gonzalez for periods of time. But despite the challenges, Pareja has led the Florida side to fifth on the Eastern Conference table and the Cup final to make a statement.
“I need to recognize the effort of the players,” Pareja said. “The best teams sometimes are not the ones who play the best, but they want to overcome situations. I have to recognize that this group of players has done that and we're battling like any other team in the league. It's not many, as I say, that have consistency.”