SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City goalkeeper Adam Grinwis knew what his situation would be he signed with the Lions.
The 26-year-old Michigan grad was brought on to be the third-choice goalkeeper. He knew opportunities to play would be limited if they ever came at all.
After three seasons in the United Soccer League, last season with Saint Louis FC, he wasn’t about to turn down a chance to play in MLS.
So Grinwis came to Central Florida and waited for his first MLS start. He watched as the Lions went from playoff-bound at the start of the season to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
“It’s obviously been a difficult season from a team standpoint,” Grinwis said. “I kind of knew what my role was coming in here. With the former staff, it was sort of laid out for me, ‘You need to improve. You’re going to be our third goalkeeper. You’re going to push our other goalkeepers who are fantastic keepers.’”
Like the rest of Orlando City’s players, Grinwis got a fresh start when new coach James O’Connor was brought in at the end of June. O’Connor, who also benched incumbent starter Joe Bendik earlier this season in favor of Earl Edwards Jr., said he’s being intentional about giving players looks.
Against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, Orlando City’s 29th match of the season, Grinwis finally got his chance to show O’Connor what he’s capable of on match day. He repaid O’Connor confidence with a three-save performance that helped the Lions earn a shut out for just the second time this season.
“Obviously I didn’t know if I would ever play this year and I think the role of a third goalkeeper is just to be prepared at all moments because you never know what’s going to happen,” Grinwis said. “With it being kind of a roller coaster season, I just kept my nose down and kept working. I don’t feel entitled to these moments, but I’m just very grateful every time I do get chances like that.
“It is a game of opinions at the end of the day, so I was hoping I could at least make a good impression with the new staff. Just put myself in a good position not only for this season but for the future.”
Bendik (56 goals against in 24 matches, 23 starts) and Edwards (10 goals against in five matches) have had ups and downs this season. Goalkeeper coach Thabane Sutu said Grinwis getting the start on Saturday wasn’t about Bendik’s or Edwards’ errors. It was just the continuation of O’Connor evaluating players heading into next season.
Sutu, who knew Grinwis from their time in the USL, said he was impressed with what he saw from the first-time starter on Saturday. He’s also been impressed with Grinwis in training.
“I wouldn’t put it down to goalkeeping errors, that kind of stuff,” Sutu said. “That happens all the time. It’s not necessarily down to that, that we made the change. It’s just really, James wanted to take a look at the entire roster. Possibly, more guys will get their chances before the end of the season.”
Orlando City is still on pace to give up a record number of goals this season, though Sutu said the goals the Lions have conceded this season aren’t 100 percent on the goalkeepers.
“The goalkeeper is the one who gets highlighted,” Sutu said. “But there’s several mistakes that happen even before the ball gets to him. I wouldn’t really put it entirely on the goalkeepers for them to improve. I think as a group we have to improve.”
Grinwis said he’s not focused on whether he’ll be the starter when Orlando City plays again next weekend. He approaches each day with a sense of optimism and is frequently smiling as he walks on to the training pitch at Sylvan Lake Park.
He credits his mother for giving him a positive outlook on life. Sutu called Grinwis “probably the most positive guy we have here.”
“I remember as a child, before school, she would lay out positive reinforcements into my ear every single day and I used to shake my head,” Grinwis said. “Now I look at it and I’m just like, wow, that really shaped how I think about things. How I think about the world. I don’t know. I try to be an optimist. I think it’s a more enjoyable way to live.”
Grinwis combines the positive attitude with the inspiration he gets from watching Mason Stajduhar, who spent most of this season undergoing treatment for bone cancer, in training.
“I think working alongside him has been, without a doubt, the most inspiring thing that this season has brought for me,” Grinwis said.
“There’s days where I show up and it’s not easy being in the role that we both have, yet he comes from Gainesville out of chemotherapy and he trains maybe harder than I think I can train that day. I think I have zero excuses this year not to give my absolute best because there’s a guy that’s been fighting for his life and he’s been out-training me on days.
“To have a guy like that to show up to work alongside every single day, I think him and I have really fed off each other. He’s pushed me to levels I didn’t know I could get to, as far as work ethic and dedication to the craft.”
Grinwis said his first MLS start was emotional. Friends, family members and people he hadn’t heard from in years reached out to congratulate him. For him, it was great to hear the words of encouragement after such a long road to playing in the United States’ top flight.
Now, he’s just interested in getting back to work.
“I think we’re only promised today and that’s life,” Grinwis said. “I really just try to keep my head down and keep working, keep doing what I’ve been doing. I enjoy the difficult training sessions. I enjoy the hard work that’s put in because then when you do get an opportunity, that’s the fun part.
“In no way have I arrived, but I’ve at least gotten a taste of it and I hope that I can stay here.”