Major League Soccer prospect Matias Pyysalo always thought playing in Orlando City Stadium was only a matter of time.
The Finnish forward played collegiate soccer at UCF, less than a 30-minute drive from the location of the 2018 MLS Player Combine.
Though Saturday his team lost the first of three exhibition matches it will play during the combine, Pyysalo saw the match as another step forward.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be called here to the combine, and I’m truly grateful for it,” Pyysalo said. “Now I’m just trying to prove myself and hopefully make it to the next level.”
Pyysalo’s invitation to the combine came after he tallied 32 goals and 18 assists in four seasons as a Knight, totaling 5,758 minutes while starting all 64 of his appearances.
He wouldn’t be the first successful, goal-scoring Knight to make it professionally. Forward Hadji Barry, who recorded 11 goals and three assists in his second and final season at UCF, was selected by Orlando City with the 13th-overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and went on to start four of his 11 appearances for the MLS side.
“Yeah, it definitely helped that there’s someone who’s been through it all,” Pyysalo said. “He’s a good friend of mine, so I’ve, of course, had many conversations with him, and he’s helped me a lot. I think that advice he’s given me is going to help me moving forward.”
Despite the precedent set by his fellow Knight, Pyysalo knows the journey to MLS won’t be an easy one. Though the goal is to play in MLS as soon as possible, the 22-year-old isn’t against playing in lower divisions.
That’s where Barry made his living in his first two years as a pro. While Barry saw limited time with the Lions’ first team, he was a mainstay for the club’s second-tier United Soccer League team, Orlando City B. Barry recorded 14 goals in two seasons with OCB.
“I think it’s a good stepping stone,” Pyysalo said of USL. “They develop players, young players, so I wouldn’t mind it.”
Pyysalo will play two more combine matches with Team Nemeziz, concluding his showcase on Wednesday. The first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be held on Friday in Philadelphia.