BRADENTON, Fla. — Alex De John is eager to make his voice heard with Orlando City.
The 27-year-old centerback is back in the United States after spending his entire professional career – up until January – overseas, most recently playing for Swedish Allsvenskan side Dalkurd FF.
De John said the Lions reached out to him early and he was convinced by the pitch of coach James O’Connor. De John is in preseason training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton with Orlando City and is looking to make a positive impression during his first season under contract with an MLS team. De John was signed to a one-year deal on Jan. 10.
“I talked to James on the phone and I really liked what James was saying about competing and winning,” De John told Pro Soccer USA. “He’s very determined this year. That aligns with me. I’m very determined and I want to win. It just felt like a good fit.”
O’Connor’s intense style suits De John fine. De John said he was told to expect an exhausting preseason training camp, and that’s what he’s getting in Bradenton.
“When I talked to [O’Connor] on the phone for the first time, he said, ‘Listen, those first two weeks are going to be a really, really hard two weeks. You’re going to buckle down and grind,’” De John said.
With a smile, he added, “That’s just what I do anyway. I like that. I like that fighting spirit. Everybody’s here working their ass off toward one common goal. Everybody so far has definitely put their head down and done what they had to do.
“100 percent a competitor. I think that’s my No. 1 aspect. I hate to lose. Definitely passion, intensity. I’m always vocal – you’ll hear me a lot if you’re going to be at the trainings. You’re going to hear me a lot on the sidelines. Just someone who’s passionate and will give everything they’ve got on the field every time they step on to it.”
De John said he’s become a more technically skilled player thanks to his time overseas.
“I’ve always been that fast, physical, strong type of guy,” he said. “Developing my technical ability was a massive step in my career for me. I feel like I’ve done that to a level where I can definitely, definitely hang with a bunch of people and play in some good leagues. This is another step along in my career and I’m very excited for it.”
Still, De John is grateful to be home in the U.S. He played college soccer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., before joining Central Jersey Spartans in the USL Premier Development League (now known as USL League Two).
“The most exciting part about it is definitely being home with my friends and family,” he said. “They’re all very, very excited and it’s great to be back. The league has grown every single year and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it now.”
Of course, De John has heard all about Orlando City’s supporters. Like most players new to the Lions, he’s looking forward to his first game in Orlando City Stadium.
“Honestly, that’s the one thing everybody here talks about is the fans and how unbelievable they are. Obviously, they haven’t had some good seasons as of late and every single time the stadium’s packed and the fans are unbelievable. I’m excited for that and to play in front of the fans.”