As Orlando City approaches its first Audi MLS Cup Playoffs run in its history, there has been a noticeable integration of former Academy talent within the First Team with the Homegrown signings of Jordan Bender, Michael Halliday and David Loera in the past year, exemplifying the Club’s commitment to its investment in its young talent.
Loera, an Orlando native and Academy product since the first days of the Orlando City Academy, made his professional debut with the First Team this season when he stepped onto the pitch on Oct. 3 against the New York Red Bulls at Exploria Stadium.
We sat down with Loera for a quick Q&A to talk about his experience, lessons learned and advice for all players who want to keep chasing their dreams of being a professional soccer player. Here’s what David Loera had to say about his road to the First Team that started by joining the Orlando City Academy:
David, when and how did you first join the Orlando City Academy?
“I originally joined the Academy in the first year that we ever had an academy here, I believe it was 2012 or 2013 and I was playing two years up. They started scouting kids once the word got out and started having tryouts. My coach from my U13 team got called to the Academy to coach and he had me join there.”
Like you mentioned, you joined the Academy in its first year. Do you see a big difference in the structure? How is it now compared to back then?
“Yeah, for sure. I think the structure has grown tremendously. Back then, it was very hard as an Academy player to make the jump to the First Team because, you know, it would be very separated. And now it’s different. If I was an Academy player now, you know, I'd be taking a lot more advantage because you can see that Oscar [Pareja], the staff, trains the Academy and they're right next door. So it's a great opportunity for those guys. And I think that the structure itself is just growing. I think they're putting a lot of emphasis on making sure that the Academy kids and the Homegrown ones can potentially make it to the First Team. And that's the main thing that's changed since back then to now.”
Can you tell us why is it important to have a coaching staff that is working together and giving the young players this opportunity?
“Yeah, I think from what I've seen they're very together. It's very, very exciting. So what I mean by that is Marcelo [Neveleff] is the guy that really takes care of the Academy and OCB. Obviously before COVID, there were multiple Academy guys coming in and training with us. He sees potential and just knows that if you do well, playing games with OCB and in the Academy, there's always that opportunity that you can come and train with the First Team and then just keep training with them here. I think Marcelo does a good job because he's the one that watches these guys and these kids every single day. Oscar [Pareja] trusts his word and so far all the Academy kids that have come to the First Team have done well.”
How was your transition from the Academy to the First Team?
“The transition was... it's different. You play with grown men but I think that training with them helps you in having an understanding of what the level is and what type of quality they demand here. You go with your mind prepared and make sure that you perform better than what you usually do because you are a young guy and you want to make a name for yourself. Just having that mentality and kind of having that ability to see how the First Team works is what really helped me at the end of the day.”
You stepped on the pitch for the first time with the First Team against the Red Bulls. Can you describe that moment and did you know that you were going to play in that game?
“No. First of all, it was a great feeling, when you finally step on that field. That was my dream, especially as a kid from Orlando. I grew up in the Academy. The struggles, all the moments, I have been here for most of it. It was something that I enjoyed and I was very proud of myself for doing that. But in regards to Oscar [Pareja] telling me. No, Oscar didn't tell me that I was going to play, I didn't know at all. He always told me to stay ready so I just made sure that I was ready and tried to do the best that I can for however long I play. Try to help my team in some sort of way.”
You mentioned that you play for your hometown team. How does it feel when you step on the field with your family and friends in the stands?
“It just feels very, very exciting. It's an amazing feeling, you have all your close family and everybody that you grew up with there. They kind of look up to what you have done and kind of inspires some of your friends and your family members. When you work towards a goal and you try to achieve something, you have just got to work through no matter what. For me, it was just an amazing feeling. It was something that I really can't describe. I'm just very proud of that.”
What are some of the lessons that you learned from the coaches at the Academy? What would you say to a player that thinks about joining the Orlando City Academy?
“All the coaches that I had growing up in the Academy always taught me to be a leader and to try to help my team as much as I can. Even though they knew I had the potential, they always treated me like everybody else. Anybody on the team can make it, you just have to work hard. I had moments where I wasn't getting called to the First Team for training and all my other teammates were, it would drive me crazy. But, you know, you just have to keep working. If I could tell the Academy kids something, I would say that you never know when your moment is going to come up so you always have to keep working.”