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Mueller’s hot run leads Orlando City into Round of 16 in MLS is Back tournament

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Orlando City may have secured a spot in the knockout stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, but following Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over New York City FC, it has been Chris Mueller’s current run of form that has been the focal point to the Lions’ attack since MLS returned to play earlier this month.

The 23-year-old attacker was behind  two of Orlando’s three goals on Tuesday, tallying his goal count in the competition to three goals in two games, giving him four goals in four appearances with the Lions this year.

With a team featuring the likes of marquee players such Nani, Dom Dwyer, Mauricio Pereyra, and Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, it has been the 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick leading the way for Orlando this season so far.

“Obviously I’ve enjoyed working with Oscar [Pareja] for sure,” Mueller said after Tuesday’s match at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “When a coach manages the players so well and gives you the confidence to go out and play your own game and show some personality on the field, I think that that’s all you can ask for.”

After a shaky start to the season, which saw Orlando go winless in its first two games before the regular season took a sudden pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oscar Pareja has managed to turn around his squad by winning the club’s first back-to-back games in league play in two years.

Mueller’s growth this year, however, been noticeable. From finding pockets of space in the final third to breaking down defensive lines, to even making clinical runs to finish off a scoring play, the third-year Orlando player credits much of his improvement to Pareja’s management style.

“I think that he’s done that really well, especially with me, I feel confident to go out and play my own game and just let the pieces kind of fall as they do and just focus on playing my game,” said Mueller on Pareja.

Mueller added: “If you look at the team, I think that our mentality is just different in the sense that we believe that we’re a winning team. We know that we have a lot of quality out there, we’re well-coached, the whole staff is so detail-oriented and they know what they want.”

Even before the ball kicked off on Tuesday, Pareja was full of praise towards the forward.

“Chris has been growing, he’s still a young player but he’s very smart,” Pareja said prior to Tuesday’s game. “He’s a player who’s understanding better the game, adding to his game, daily he’s getting better and that makes me happy. He receives well the information. He’s a player who can score, who can play wide, inside — as a second striker, he’s learning his job on playing the spaces. I see him progressing and he’s a big hope for the club.”

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