Orlando City did not have to select Orlando native Santiago Patiño in the MLS SuperDraft on Friday. But in the minds of head coach James O’Connor and Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, they needed to.
Patiño grew up playing soccer in Orlando, played for Freedom High School and spent his last year before going off to Florida International University at Orlando City’s development academy. By all reasoning, he should have been a homegrown player for Orlando City.
“They (MLS) said they didn’t have the proper documentation on it,” Muzzi said at the draft. “Even Santiago sent emails to the league saying ‘I’m a homegrown, I played for the team, I have minutes trained, but no.”
“I feel like we’re done wrong by the league,” added Muzzi. “He (Patiño) is a homegrown. We could have traded, we could have received some money, done something different, but we had to use that number three pick on someone that we felt was ours anyway.”
In the statement from Muzzi, a glimpse of the new direction for Orlando City is shown. Despite Patiño not being able to sign with the team and instead entering the SuperDraft, Orlando still made sure to go out of their way to send a message. A message not only to Patiño, who will now play for his hometown club, but to all the former Orlando City academy players that have felt a disconnect from the team over the years.
“I want to reach out to all the other guys that are still in school and all that and make sure they know that this is something that is on top of our list,” Muzzi added, “Make sure they come back in the summer to train, make sure they feel like they’re wanted.”
For Orlando, the steps are being taken slowly but surely. Just a few weeks prior, Orlando signed Portland University forward Benji Michel to a homegrown contract, the first Orlando player signed to a homegrown since Mason Stajduhar back at the end of 2015. Now with both Michel and Patiño joining the ranks this season, both Muzzi and O’Connor hope that they are sending a strong message to Orlando players past and present.
“I think both Luiz and myself didn’t want anyone that we feel is a homegrown going and playing for anybody else,” O’Connor said during the draft, “I think we want to make sure that we send a message to all our other homegrowns that are in college and that are out there, that we are very intentional about trying to develop players and bring players through our system.”
The value that both O’Connor and Muzzi are putting on Orlando based players wanting to feel a part of the team and wanting to join the professional ranks is sure to reach players that have felt discouraged from the recent years of neglect from the club. A value that they feel cannot be bought with any money from MLS.
“We need our guys,” Muzzi said. “We need our local guys. We value this a lot more than whatever GAM, TAM or anything. We need our guys to stay in town.”
(Photo by Austin David / Orlando Soccer Journal)
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