KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Defender Rodrigo Schlegel’s goal for his first season with Orlando City is simple — get on the pitch and stay there.
Although he hails from top Argentinian side Racing Club, he spent most of his two seasons there on the bench. The defender saw made five appearances since joining the first team roster in July 2018, earning 90 minutes only once against Corinthians in the Copa Sudamericana.
With the Lions, Schlegel is battling Antônio Carlos to earn a starting spot as a centerback alongside veteran Robin Jansson.
“I’m looking to get the most minutes that I can,” Schlegel said through a translator. “I want to learn and to enjoy the training, and to learn new things that the coaches are asking. The more minutes I get and the more games I see… I know I will get better.”
Besides coach Óscar Pareja’s grueling preseason training sessions, communication was the first challenge Schlegel faced in Orlando. He didn’t speak any English before moving to the United States. Although Schlegel bonded quickly with fellow Spanish speakers such as keeper Pedro Gallese, he faced a language barrier with Jansson, who speaks English and Swedish.
After struggling through their first few days together, Schlegel began to select specific soccer terms in Spanish to memorize in English — directions such as “right” and “left” and how to call for the ball.
Although Schlegel said he hasn’t tried to pick up any Swedish — he joked it’s “too hard” to figure out on top of English — he said this conscious effort to learn each other’s languages has forced his teammates to build their relationships as well.
“The first days, to be honest it was a little difficult,” Schlegel said. “But soccer is a world language. So, we are getting to understand [each other] better. Now as each day comes by, our communication just gets better, because I started to learn more and [my teammates] help me with the language, too.”
The preseason hasn’t left much time for Schlegel to explore his new home outside of the stadium and the training facilities. Like many of his teammates, the defender jokes he’s been too tired to do much more than relax and watch Netflix during his scant free time.
For Schlegel, that time is spent keeping in touch with his loved ones back home in Argentina. Schlegel comes from a large family — one brother, several cousins who are practically siblings — and takes pride in their closeness. He spent his first six years as a professional with Racing, the team he grew up supporting with his brother and cousin.
For those early years of his career, Schlegel played only half an hour away from his childhood home, looking up to find family in the stands every game.
So when it came time to say his goodbyes at the airport, Schlegel was struck with emotion. He had never left Argentina before, and the move to Orlando marked his first meaningful separation from his family and girlfriend.
They use a group chat to talk each day and he calls regularly. Last week, Schlegel’s family was singing karaoke when he called, so he joined in, singing along from a continent away.
Despite the long distance from his family, Schlegel said his new teammates have helped ease the transition to Orlando. He spent his first weeks in Orlando in a hotel along with Gallese, which helped the two grow close on and off the pitch.
With help from teammates like Mauricio Pereyra and Santiago Patiño, the defender says Orlando City is beginning to feel like home.
“The truth is, this transition has been very beautiful,” Schlegel said. “I know that I made the right decision to come here. It’s been a dream, and I’m very happy to be here.”
Orlando prepares for next step in World Cup bid
Last week, Orlando was one of 17 U.S. cities to receive an invitation to a workshop in Dallas to begin preparation of a bid for the 2026 World Cup. According to a report by Sports Illustrated, this workshop will take place in mid-March, where the selected cities will receive full details of what to expect from the process.
The other bid locations are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C., while both San Francisco and New York are bidding for a wider area that extends beyond their city borders.
The next steps of bidding will also include a pair of inspection visits, which will take place between March and November. Bids are expected to be submitted in June. Of the 17 cities vying for a spot, only 10 will be selected as hosts.