For Orlando City midfielder Cam Lindley, the 2018 MLS season has been about development.
The 2017 ACC Midfielder of the Year was thrown into the fire early this season. After two seasons at North Carolina, Orlando City acquired Lindley’s Homegrown rights from the Chicago Fire and $100,000 in Targeted Allocation Money in exchange for veteran defender Rafael Ramos.
Lindley didn’t have much time to get used to life with Orlando City before he was inserted into the starting XI. Due to injuries to presumed starters, he was deployed as a holding midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield in Orlando City’s season opener against D.C. United.
Lindley was playing in one of the most important positions on the pitch for Orlando City in his first MLS start.
“Not having any experience, it was really tough at first,” Lindley said. “I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve gotten faster. I’ve gotten stronger. All the things needed to be a good defensive mid in this league. It was really nerve-wracking at first, but I’m way past those nerves.”
The 20-year-old midfielder – who on Wednesday will celebrate his 21st birthday – started in two more matches for the Lions before falling out of the starting XI. He was loaned out to Saint Louis FC in May and played a full 90 minutes, but he hasn’t had another MLS chance in a while.
He’ll get another opportunity to play during MLS All-Star Week in Atlanta. Lindley on Thursday was called up to the MLS Homegrown team and will face Tigres’ U-20 team during the MLS Homegrown Game on July 31 at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground.
“It’s awesome,” Lindley said. “I’ve watched [the Homegrown Game] the past couple of years, so it’s cool to be a part of it. I get to play with some of my buddies that I’ve been friends with since I was 12, 13 years old through national team stuff.
“To get to watch Yoshi [Yotún] in the all-star game the next day will be really cool, as well.”
Lindley’s been focused on getting better in training. The return on midfielder Uri Rosell and the emergence of Cristian Higuita as a viable defensive mid alongside Yoshi Yotún have meant limited opportunities for Lindley on match day.
Lindley said he’s watched players like Rosell in order to learn and grow without match minutes.
“I think it’s a rookie year,” Lindley said. “I’ve gotten a lot fitter, I’ve gotten a lot better. It’s just been a good growing year for me. It was good to get experience in the first couple games. But it’s also been tough. Coaches coming and going and trying to adjust to new systems.
“It’s been great, I think. I’m getting better every day. Next time I get the chance, I know I can help the team.”
At first, living alone in Orlando was tough for Lindley, though he said he’s adjusted. He golfs with his teammates like Scott Sutter – though he avoids the heat – and enjoys watching HGTV’s “Love It or List It” because he’s fascinated by interior design.
Sometimes after training, Lindley lingers by the horse farm near the training grounds at Sylvan Lake Park to watch the horses gallop around. They remind him of his home in Indiana, where he used to watch his friend’s horses.
Another reminder of home recently arrived in Florida.
Lindley’s younger sister, Cassidy, who he said is his best friend, moved to Gainesville to play college soccer at the University of Florida.
“We grew up playing soccer together,” Lindley said. “We went to the same high school. I actually transferred high schools to make sure I went to the same high school with her. Good relationship and it’s funny how we both ended up in Florida.”
Lindley said he’s learning what it takes to be a professional soccer player. There’s a level of commitment that goes beyond time on the training pitch.
“It’s been great,” Lindley said. “I think the biggest thing for me is I always had the ability. The passing and stuff like that. I needed to work on the other side of the game. The past five, six months, I’ve been able to really do that. That’s huge in MLS because it’s such a physical league. I’ve been able to drop some weight, put on some muscle mass, which has been huge.
“If you want to be a professional soccer player, there’s going to be ups and downs. Right now, I think I’m on an up in my career. Hopefully I can keep going forward and hopefully it will show on the field and we can get some results for the fans.”