Having the chance to lead Minnesota United to its first final in league play since the team joined Major League Soccer is already enough to make Thursday’s MLS is Back semifinal against Orlando City a special event for Loons head coach Adrian Heath.
“I’m really looking forward to the game because you know what my connection with the Orlando City is and the city itself,” Heath said during a conference call on Monday. “So, it will always be more than just another game for me because of the respect that I have for the supporters. We built a club together, and I always like coming to the city, still have a home so as I say, Orlando is something very special to me and dear to me.”
The Loons went through the quarterfinals last weekend after mauling the San Jose Earthquakes 4-1 to advance to Thursday’s semifinal bout, which will kick off at 8 p.m. at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida.
As much as Heath’s history with Orlando City will provide an interesting subplot to Thursday’s match, Lions coach Oscar Pareja doesn’t see that storyline having any impact on the actual game itself.
“I just see it as another game that represents a lot for everyone,” said Pareja. “There is no past and there is no future, it’s just this one game and we’re going to make sure that we’re there, that’s our responsibility. Other than that, the stories behind or around, I know it’s part of the game, but I’m not going to look at it [like that].”
Orlando City enters the semifinal fresh off an upset victory against tournament favorites Los Angeles FC in the quarterfinals. The Lions have been one of the surprises of the tournament, and their ability to stand toe-to-toe, and eventually eliminate LAFC has sent a clear message that they are not just some Cinderella story.
“We know this is going to be tough. I think this will be our toughest game so far and we’re gonna have to play, probably better than we’ve done at any stage in the tournament to win the game,” said Heath. “But there’s a lot at stake, and we’re looking forward to it.”