Florida International standout Santiago Patino was almost an Orlando City SC player before the start of his senior season in Miami.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound striker was in talks with Orlando City to sign a Homegrown deal. Patino, a graduate of Freedom High in Orlando, played for Orlando City’s development academy (specifically, the U-18s) for “seven or eight months” before going to FIU.
“They mentioned about it, but it didn’t go through,” Patino said about the potential deal that would have brought him to MLS a year early.
Patino said he spoke with Orlando City often between his junior and senior seasons at FIU. He was brought in on trial early in the 2018 season when both Dom Dwyer and Stéfano Pinho were injured for Orlando City, but the Homegrown deal never materialized.
When asked why, he said, “I’m not sure. I spoke with Orlando and I know they wanted to do a Homegrown deal, but for some reason it didn’t happen.”
Regarding Homegrown players, the league’s roster rules say, “A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements.”
A club spokesman confirmed to Pro Soccer USA that Patino’s Homegrown status was challenged, which meant Orlando City couldn’t sign him.
Now, after a 12-goal senior campaign at FIU, Patino is at the MLS Player Combine in Orlando City Stadium. More than 70 collegiate, youth and international stars are in Orlando for the event, which started in earnest on Saturday. It’s a final chance for players to impress coaches and scouts from around the league before the MLS SuperDraft, which is on Friday in Chicago.
Patino played well in his first match at Orlando City Stadium. He sent a through ball to Michigan State’s DeJuan Jones and Jones opened the scoring in a 4-1 victory for Team Nemeziz over Team Copa.
“I think I did a good job,” Patino said. “I showed that I’m strong. That I can hold the ball and that I can connect my passes. There’s more stuff I can do, but today I didn’t get enough chances. We’ll get to that. I’m just trying to do my best and enjoy it.”
Orlando City didn’t get to grab Patino early, but he said he’s happy with the time he spent at FIU. Patino scored 31 goals in 69 matches as a Panther, including double-digit goals in his junior and senior seasons.
He said he wanted to be sure he was invited to the MLS Player Combine after his senior year.
“I think FIU was great for me,” he said. “I always say it’s not only soccer-wise, but personally-wise. I grew up. I matured. It was a good experience there. It really comes to a point of how bad do you want it, you know?”
Plus, at this point, he could just as easily be drafted by Orlando City, which owns the No. 3 overall pick in the SuperDraft.
Patino said it would be a pleasure to play for the Lions.
“I’m from here,” he said. “My family lives here. I would love to play here.”