José Aja stood on the back line, shouting orders and positions at his teammates.
As the ball slid along from one side to another, so did the defensive structure.
When he stepped in front of the cameras, he was just as confident.
“Good morning, everybody,” he said during preseason camp in Jacksonville. “Right now we are training so hard in this second week. We keep working day by day. We feel good now.”
That Aja, who spoke barely any English when he arrived 18 months ago, did his first on-camera interview in English is impressive enough. But that the defenders shifted as he shouted his instructions, though still early, shows work put in during the offseason is paying off.
“We really challenged him going into the offseason that he needed to do something different than last season,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “He’s come in here extremely fit, he looks extremely sharp.”
It bodes well that Aja looks to have taken Kreis’ challenge to heart. Months of work with assistant coach CJ Brown and video analyst and mental coach Guillermo Sanchez have put Aja into a position where he’s ready to succeed.
“Personally I think that I have to be great,” he said. “We are working hard and try to be better than last year.”
But what should help Aja be better on the field is the stability his life has gained off of it. The 24-year-old married his long-time girlfriend in December back home in Uruguay.
“Last year when she couldn’t be with me it was a bit difficult living at such a distance,” he said after training Wednesday. “The truth is, now I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot happier here. I’m enjoying playing and living with her, which is so important.”
The newlyweds have plans to adopt a dog after she settles in Orlando in the coming weeks.
“She gets here the 27th of February,” Aja smiled. “She already has her ticket.”
“He looks like he’s in a really good place right now,” said Kreis.
Amro Tarek got off his 17-hour flight on Sunday and less than 24 hours later, he was in his full No. 3 kit doing interviews and photo shoots at Orlando City Media Day.
Today, he hit the training pitch.
“It was so far really nice,” said Tarek, who was born in Los Angeles but moved to Egypt as a child. “The guys are so friendly, the coaches too. Everything’s going well.”
Tarek joins City on a year-long loan from Egyptian Premier League side Wadi Degla FC, but the 25-year-old is no stranger to MLS.
“I was here for two months with Columbus,” Tarek said of his loan stint in 2016. “It was a short period but now I know the league. I think now it’s easy for me; I’m not discovering these things for the first time.”