|Photo Courtesy of Orlando City|
By Mike Gramajo
After turning down offers from big European clubs to join Orlando City Soccer Club as their first homegrown player signing, 17-year old defender Tommy Redding is looking to continue to develop his craft, knowing his Major League Soccer debut looms within four months.
Prior to signing a homegrown player contract with Orlando City — which saw him play one year in USL Pro — Redding rejected offers from German giants FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. That ushered him toward a contributing role in Orlando’s final USL Pro regular season campaign.
“The biggest lesson for me as a first-year is you can’t turn off,” Redding told the OSJ. “There’s not a point in the game or your mind can just shut down. At my age you can get away from it, but professionally, you can’t get away with it, you always gotta be focus for the full 90 minutes.
“Everyone in the team taught me at least one or two things throughout the season. I just try to learn from everyone, and everyone in the team contributed into me learning something. At the beginning, I was scared to ask. I was a part of the team, but I wasn’t close to any of the guys, so it was intimidating, but as the season went by, I felt fine asking anyone.”
|Redding signing his first professional contract (OSJ)|
The first-year professional began the season as a backup center back to teammates Rob Valentino and former Vancouver Whitecaps defender Brad Rusin, but eventually saw his playing time stretch as Orlando’s back line endured injuries throughout the season. When all was said and done, the Oviedo, Florida native saw his inaugural season as a professional soccer player finish with 14 games played and 1043 minutes tucked away.
However, the beginning wasn’t how he expected it to go. Towards the end of Orlando City’s preseason, Redding succumbed to a hamstring injury, which kept him out of action for nearly the first month into the USL season. It wasn’t until May 14 that saw Redding make his professional debut during U.S. Open Cup second round play when he came into the game during halftime. OCSC ultimately finished the game with an outstanding 4-1 victory over the visiting Ocala Stampede, but that was only the beginning for the Lions’ homegrown player.
“It was weird, it was long but it was short at the same time,” Redding said. “During the season it was long, but there are other points where it feels like it was short. I really enjoyed it, I think it was really a great first season for me, I think for the both of us [Tyler Turner]. I look back at myself from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, and I say ‘Wow what a difference it’s been for me’ I think he’s [Heath] such a great coach.
“The way he coaches is a little intimidating when you first get into it. But once you get used to it, and talk to him, you can talk to him about anything, he’s like a coach but also a mentor. What I like the most about him is he lets me play my soccer. I think my personal talent playing as a center back role is being able to come up and dribble out of the back, and a lot of coaches don’t feel comfortable with their center backs dribbling out of the back.
"I remember the Richmond game, and at halftime he was screaming at me, telling me ‘You have a talent to dribble around the back, so I need you to dribble through the back’ and for me that was shocking because I didn’t realize I could do it, and he pushed me and he told me to do it. I just think he’s the greatest coach I’ve had all my life.”
Following his professional debut, Redding began building momentum when he started and played the full 90 minutes during Orlando’s next league match. His partnership with United States U-18 Men’s National Team right-back Tyler Turner seemed to blossom from the moment Heath inserted the duo into the starting lineup throughout the 2014 USL Pro season, but a bond was forming with not only Turner, but the whole team in general.
“I’ve always played in teams and systems where it’s like a family,” added Redding. “When I signed my professional contract, I didn’t really believe that could happen since it was professional, that you can have the same type of feeling. As the season went on, I started realizing everyone here are like brothers and family.”
That family that Redding would echo after OCSC played their last USL Pro season, however, would take a turn toward heartbreak when he realized key players, especially those that played with him in the back line, wouldn’t be making the jump to MLS. Redding told the OSJ it was an experience he felt came at the right time that helped him grow as not only an athlete, but a person.
With dreams of one day representing the United States in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia being a far reality, another opportunity Redding said he wouldn’t turn down would be playing in the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with the U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team. However, he admitted that would only happen with the amount of work he puts in once the ball gets rolling in MLS.
“That’ll be really cool,” said Redding on the possibility of playing in Rio 2016. “As long as I keep working as hard as I can I have strong chance. When you have a good season anywhere as a young player, that’s a call up, it gives you an extra thing to give coach’s to look at.”
Redding has begun his offseason training with Orlando City despite the club not having a complete squad. Redding mentioned shortly after OCSC were knocked out of the playoffs in September that he has thought about going overseas to train before Orlando City begin their preseason.
“There has been clubs [expressed interest], and I would like to go overseas in this offseason to get some training,” said Redding. “European and American clubs have expressed interest in me to train overseas or domestically, I think that’ll be a good opportunity. It will go through all of us (general manager Paul McDonough and head coach Adrian Heath), we will all have a say with a plan to move forward. Throughout my whole life my dream has been to play soccer professionally in Europe. Hopefully before my career ends, I will be able to make that dream become a reality.”