To say it’s been a long time coming is an understatement.
5 years, 8 months and 21 days ago, just shy of his 18th birthday, is when Mason Stajduar signed his first professional contract with his hometown team, Orlando City. For the last 299 weeks, the keeper has bided his time, gone through trials and hardships and a lot of learning lessons, but finally he has made it.
Friday night marked Stajduhar’s first MLS start with Orlando as they took on rivals Atlanta United. After starting keeper Pedro Gallese went down injured in last week’s match against NYCFC, the opportunity arose for either Mason or Brandon Austin to take the starting role. Head Coach Oscar Pareja decided to go with the Orlando homegrown.
“It was a great moment for Mason tonight,” Pareja said after the match. “Can’t imagine how hard he has worked to get this opportunity, being patient. Understanding the moments, the energy that he spent every day just trying to wait for that moment and the moment came tonight. I think he’s shown everybody that that he’s ready, and we are very proud. He is a product from our academy, from the club, and today being part of this game, it meant a lot for him and it meant a lot for his teammates. Congratulations to Mason, we are very proud of him.”
Last night’s match meant more than just an MLS debut. It was a culmination of hard work, dedication and overcoming extreme adversity for someone that is only 23 years old. On November 18, 2017, Stajduhar had been diagnosed with Localized Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and had begun to undergo chemotherapy. During the 2018 season, the young keeper would go to chemo in Gainesville, travel back to Orlando for training and even lift weights in the afternoon, all while battling cancer. On June 20, 2018, Mason completed his chemotherapy treatment and was deemed cancer free, allowing him to return to the Lions full time.
All while going through his treatment, he had friends, family and teammates supporting him along the way. Following the match, the outpouring of support on social media from former teammates, coaches and even front office staff showed just how much Mason’s journey impacted the Orlando team over the last five years.
“It means the world,” Stajduhar said after the match Friday. “I felt like I had everyone behind me tonight and supporting me and egging me on. There’s a lot of people, countless number of people that have been there with me through the trials and tribulations, especially my mom and dad. Former teammates, former coaches, former staff members. I couldn’t have got here without them today.”
Even with the cancer diagnosis, Stajduhar also had the uphill climb of getting to play his first MLS minutes. Over the last five years, Mason has only played in 20 professional games, 17 with FC Tulsa in 2019 and three with Orlando City B in 2020. Through that time, however, he has been able to learn from a number of goalkeepers that have come through the Lions team in that time and be able to glean different ways of playing from established pros.
“Yeah, a little bit from everybody. Tally (Hall) Joe (Bendik) Earl (Edwards), Brian (Rowe), Greg (Ranjitsingh) in 2018, Pedro (Gallese) now and then, Adam Grinwis. He’s meant a lot to me. He’s been a big mentor for me and helped me through a lot of times so definitely want to say thanks to Adam specifically.”
All of the waiting finally culminated in not just an MLS start, but an MLS win coming against his hometown team’s rival. Now the 23-year-old keeper can look forward to a future of more matches more wins for his beloved Lions.
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