Q&A With Homegrown Wilfredo Rivera

You’ve been part of the Orlando City Academy since 2018. From the Montverde years to where the Academy is now with the First Team under one facility, how much have things changed? What have been the benefits?

Things have changed a lot, and for the better, to be honest. Back at Montverde we didn’t really get any exposure to the First Team, and now the academy practices in the same place at the same time, so the academy sees the First Team. I feel like that gives them more of a challenge and more hunger.

What have you learned working so closely with Orlando City Academy Director Marcelo Neveleff since he came to the Club in 2019?

He’s taught me that if you don’t work hard, you’re not going to get anywhere. It does not matter. Your talent, your capabilities, [what] you can do, but if you do not work hard, he will definitely let you know.

What was it like during your first training session with the First Team?

A bit anxious, because when you’re there, you’re like, “oh I don’t want to mess up,” but messing up is definitely part of the process. You have to mess up to get better. It was definitely a great experience for me.

What did you take away from spending a week with the team at the IMG Academy camp?

Off the field, all the players are men and they know how to carry themselves professionally. They taught me to keep my head straight, always look forward and to carry yourself with some maturity.

What was it like to get your first cap for Puerto Rico back in January? Feelings as you stepped onto the pitch?

It felt great. It was an honor to be wearing the colors of my home island. It felt really, really great. There was a lot of support coming from everywhere – the Club, Orlando City, my family. And everything was perfect for me.

What led to you signing a Homegrown contract with Orlando City?

My dream has always been to play pro at the highest level. MLS is definitely one of those leagues that is a very high level and I just feel like it was the right thing to do at this time. So me and my parents talked about it, they supported me through every step, and Marcelo [Neveleff] also supported me, he was guiding me through all of this as well. Oscar [Pareja] was guiding me through all of it and it was all perfect for me.

How much have you looked up to other players like Benji Michel, Jordan Bender, David Loera and Michael Halliday who have gone from the Academy to the First Team? What does it mean for you to follow them?

It’s an honor, because not everyone has the chance to sign with an MLS team. Me being one of those few that has been a Homegrown, it really is life-changing for me and my family. It’s great for me.

What would you say to a young player thinking about the Orlando City Academy as their path to the pros?

I feel like you should do it. If your gut tells you to do it, if you come to Orlando City I’m positive that the staff and everyone will bring you in with open arms.