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New York City FC-Orlando City Preview
New York City FC and Orlando City SC both joined MLS as expansion teams in 2015, but that's where their similarities end.
NYCFC hopes this is finally the year it gets over the hump - even without franchise leading scorer David Villa - while Orlando begins its quest for the first playoff appearance in franchise history when these teams open their 2019 seasons Saturday at Orlando City Stadium.
New York went from picking up 37 points as an expansion team to earning 54, 57 and 56 in making the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, including a 16-10-8 record last year. NYCFC, though, was ousted in the Eastern Conference semifinals all three times.
NYCFC will now be without Villa, the team's first captain who scored 80 goals in 124 MLS appearances and was the MLS MVP in 2016. To help make up for the loss of Villa, who left for Japanese club Vissel Kobe, New York added Romanian international Alexandru Mitrita as a designated player.
Mitrita had 16 goals in 38 games across all competitions with Universitatea Craiova in Romania's top league in 2018-19.
"Alexandru is a very talented attacking threat who can score goals and create chances when running at the opposing team," NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna told his team's official website. "... He possesses an innate desire to win and is focused on becoming an important player for our club as we challenge for the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup."
New York also acquired U.S. national midfielder Keaton Parks on loan from Portuguese club Benfica. Reyna said Parks "comes to us highly motivated" and can "make a strong impact" in midfield.
Orlando, meanwhile, finished seventh in the East in its inaugural campaign, five points out of the final playoff spot. However, it has been a steady decline for the club ever since.
After having 44 points in 2015, Orlando had 41 the following season, 39 in 2017 and a conference-low 28 last year. It allowed an MLS record 74 goals in 2018 and tied for the fewest goals scored in the East with 43 while posting an 8-22-4 record.
Orlando City addressed those scoring woes by adding Portugal midfielder Nani as a designated player. The 32-year-old former Manchester United star had seven goals in 18 games with Sporting CP in Portugal's Primeira Liga before joining Orlando, which was led by Dom Dwyer's 13 goals last season.
"I was doing very well at Sporting, I was happy there, but I like the challenge, I like the opportunity to be part of this project in Orlando," Nani told Orlando City's official website. "MLS has been improving in the last (few) years, and they gave me the conditions to show my football to this big country."
NYCFC has won the last four meetings in this series by a combined 10-0 score after Orlando went 5-1-2 in the first eight matchups.
Updated February 28, 2019