Orlando City is off to the best 10-game start in club history, with 21 points in the bag and the best points-per-game in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions have done this despite several key absences through injuries, suspensions and international duty. Various players have stepped up to the plate to carry the torch, with Andrés Perea, Brandon Austin and Benji Michel among those starring in City’s nine-point run last week.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign has come from 18 year-old Homegrown right back Mikey Halliday, who has played the last 135 minutes for Orlando and helped the Lions see off Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale last Friday night.
“With Mikey, it’s great, it’s good for us to keep adding players and seeing the youngsters have minutes and fighting for the position,” said Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja, long renowned for his work with young players. “He understands better what the competition is like, because he’s in it, and the next experiences for sure will help him.”
Halliday, who just graduated from high school in May, was handed his first start back on May 29 against the New York Red Bulls, playing as a right wingback in a line of five. Orlando lost, 2-1, failing to earn points for the only time in 2021, but Halliday took the game as a learning experience.
“The first one I was a little nervous, obviously, it was my first professional start,” said Halliday. “But [against Miami], I came in, I was much more confident and now this coming week I feel like I’ll be way more confident.”
Halliday was excellent against Miami, playing right back in a back four and shutting down both starter Brek Shea and sub Rodolfo Pizarro as the Lions came from behind to win 2-1. Pareja says he sees the growth even across those two games.
“It was a good opportunity for Mikey to debut as a starter in New York. The outcome of the game obviously was difficult, but [those are] the games that make him grow,” said Pareja. “After that, he has been working like always, waiting for his opportunity and now he already played a great game in Miami and had the victory. All those scenarios help the players to develop, to grow into the roster, to have confidence in themselves.”
Halliday, one of eight Homegrown players on the Orlando City roster, signed his first team contract during last summer’s MLS is Back Tournament at age 17, but had been training with Pareja’s side since the Club’s 2020 preseason trip to Cancún. He says the experience of being around the first team, even before joining up officially, was a big factor in his comfort level on the pitch.
“It’s taught me more than I can tell you, to be honest,” Halliday said. “It’s crazy what I’ve learned the past few years since I’ve been here and coming up with the first team. That’s probably the same with the Academy [success at the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs], because now they train with us all the time, so it’s probably helping them quite a bit.”
Halliday and the Lions will look to extend their winning streak to four games, and earn a measure of revenge, when they face the New York Red Bulls at Exploria Stadium on Saturday night. The match, presented by Rasmussen University, is set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET.