It started with a dream.
Raul Aguilera Sr. moved from Mexico to Orlando in the 1990s to chase his dream of playing professional soccer. His opportunity came with the Orlando Sun Dogs of the USL A-League, then the second division of the U.S. soccer pyramid. After just one season, though, the Sun Dogs folded. But Orlando offered Aguilera the perfect place to raise his family and start a new life.
And soccer would still play a huge part of it.
“I didn’t like it at the beginning. I didn’t like soccer,” said his son, Raul Aguilera Jr.
He may not have liked it at first, but Aguilera Sr. saw great potential in his son at an early age. He played with his son and taught him a lot about the game and has shaped Aguilera Jr. into the player he is today.
“He’s been working with the ideas I taught him since he’s been seven or eight,” Aguilera Sr. said. “What I taught him was to be a player not for himself, but for the team. I think he has the same mentality as me. He’s a very smart player.”
“We joke around about this in the house, [about] how he always says how he taught me whatever he taught me. He taught me the basics; he got me in to the game. He’s had a passion for it and his dream was to play professional soccer,” Aguilera Jr. said. “He didn’t really get to that, but he passed it on to me and it’s something that he taught me.”
The two agree that Aguilera Jr.’s biggest asset is his vision on the field. His ball-handling skills help him keep his head up and his eyes on his surroundings, making it easier to see defenders and find open teammates.
“Before I get the ball, I have an idea of where I’m going to go, which is something that really comes in handy when I’m playing at a higher level,” he said. “The quicker it gets, the less time you have on the ball.”
Aguilera Jr.’s success at youth levels prompted him to join Orlando City’s academy, and he attributes much of his development to his coaches there. Playing in an MLS academy has offered him opportunities he wouldn’t have otherwise had and it gave him access to coaches willing to do what it takes to make their players’ dreams come true.
“[Orlando City has] offered me so much support. It’s something I don’t think I would’ve gotten anywhere else and it’s an amazing opportunity. I thank Orlando for all that.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am without [OC Academy coach Greg Brick’s] help. He was my coach for six or seven years and taught me so much. He is highly thought of in Orlando City Soccer Club and I would just like to thank him for what he’s done for me and many other players with the dream of playing pro soccer,” said Aguilera Jr. in a statement.
Today, he is in Sweden for the Nordic Cup with the U-18 U.S. Men’s National Team. Aguilera Jr. had previously been capped with the U-15 and U-16 National Teams. The team will play Faroe Islands today (August 4th), Iceland on August 5, and Sweden on August 7.
His success at such a young age – Aguilera Jr. is just 16 years old – and being a part of Orlando City has also given him an opportunity to train with the first team, a brief glimpse into the daily routines of his professional role models.
“I love training with the first team,” he said. “It’s just a dream that every kid has. Every kid in the academy eventually wants to [play with the first team]. It’s why every practice day they give it their all so maybe one day they’ll be called up to play with the first team and having an opportunity is just amazing. It gives me an incentive of what I have to do to prepare myself if I want to play on that level.”
A native of Orlando, Aguilera Jr. has seen the impact that Orlando City has had on the city first-hand.
“If I go anywhere outside the country, whether it’s on vacation or whether it’s for soccer, I say I’m from Orlando and quickly the response is ‘Orlando City’ and ‘Kaká’. It’s just well-known everywhere,” he said. “The impact it’s made on the city has been great. Everywhere you go you see the little magnets on the back of the cars. It just shows how much it brings the city together and it’s amazing going to the games and seeing everyone being so happy about this. [It’s something] we’ve all dreamed about.”
Previous U-18 MNTers Tyler Turner and Conor Donovan are now on Orlando City’s first team, showing the potential that not only the Club sees in them today, but that the National Development Program saw in them a few short years ago. Soon, Aguilera could be another name on that list.
“Right now I’m focusing on making my dream become a reality and playing professional soccer. Hopefully I can do that with Orlando City. Being here at home, signing a homegrown contract would be amazing.”
Aguilera Jr. is chasing a dream passed down from father to son. He has a long way to go, but he’s well on his way, and Orlando City and its academy are helping him get there.