It was a move he’d been hoping for.
When David Mateos was playing in Hungary for Ferencvárosi TC, he talked with one of his teammates about wanting to come to Major League Soccer (MLS). He said it was a growing league signing big-name players from around the world, and he wanted to be a part of the movement.
On July 29, Orlando City announced it had signed Mateos and Swiss midfielder Adrian Winter. The moves were made to bolster City’s attack from the midfield and add size and depth to the backline. But Mateos, a product of Real Madrid’s academy, figures to be an immediate contributor.
Mateos arrived to Orlando on Saturday, and after just one training session, Lions boss Adrian Heath likes what he sees.
“He looks good. Obviously a very imposing kid, big 6’3”, so he’s got all the attributes to be a top drawer center back in this league,” he said.
The move to America was a long time coming for Mateos. The Spaniard came up through the Real Madrid academy, starting with them when he was just 10. After a few loan spells at AEK Athens and Zaragoza (then in Spain’s La Liga), Mateos spent several seasons at Ferencvárosi, where he made 40 appearances and scored seven goals.
One of the challenges faced by many foreign players when they arrive to the United States is the language barrier. Mateos understands it and speaks a little, but Orlando City offers him a home with plenty of Spanish-speakers.
“It seems like a friendly group. For me, it’s easy because there are a lot of players that speak Portuguese, Spanish and the truth is the coaches seem very good,” he said to reporters in Spanish on Tuesday. “This is a beautiful moment.”
Players like Aurélien Collin, his partner at center back (who speaks four languages), Darwin Cerén, Cristian Higuita and several other Spanish-speakers have made him comfortable in his new home. And of course Kaká, his former Real Madrid teammate.
“It’s a pleasure. I was with him in Real Madrid for a year. When I learned of Orlando City’s interest, he wrote me to tell me it’s really great here,” he said. “And the truth is I’ve been here two days and I don’t have any complaints. My family and I love it here and the team has really welcomed us. It really surprised me.”
Mateos’ arrival comes at a crucial time for Orlando City. After Seb Hines was scratched at the last minute before Saturday’s game against Philadelphia, Conor Donovan made his MLS debut but tore his ACL just 10 minutes in. Eighteen-year-old Tommy Redding stepped in and was fantastic, but Mateos brings with him the experiences of a veteran European defender. And with a trip to Seattle looming just five days away, that experience is much needed.
Asked if he was ready to play on Sunday, Mateos responded: “Players want to play. Of course it’s a big change from Europe to the United States because of the climate and humidity, but it’s Tuesday. I have four or five days to adapt. If the coach wants to play me on Sunday, I intend to prove his confidence with a good game so we can get three points.”
The importance of the playoff push is not lost on the newcomer.
“We’ve made moves for big players and our objective is to make the playoffs and the truth is we’re not far,” said Mateos. “We have sixth place right there.”