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Despite trade, Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar and former Lion Tony Rocha share close bond

Minnesota United defender Romain Metanire (19) attempts to tackle NYCFC's Tony Rocha (15) during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

ORLANDO — Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar was — unsurprisingly — with Tony Rocha in December when Rocha discovered he was going to be traded to NYCFC.

The two friends immediately reached an agreement. 

They met up during the Orlando City Invitational, which included NYCFC, Minnesota United and the New England Revolution. For the first time – it was never necessary before – the duo swapped jerseys.

“I told him once I found out about the New York trade – I was actually with him when he found out the first news that it might happen – I was like, ‘You’ve got to give me an NYC jersey when we see each other,’ because we saw that we were playing in the preseason schedule,” Stajduhar said.

Rocha started the friendly against the Loons, which NYCFC ended up losing 1-0. Stajduhar got a game-worn jersey from Rocha.  

“He gave me the wet, sweaty one, so I took it home and washed it right away.” Stajduahr said with a laugh. “I’m going to hang it up in my room, for sure.”

Stajduhar said he and Rocha became close friends while they were roommates. They lived together in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2016, they shared a place with Mikey Ambrose, who now plays for Atlanta United. 

“2015, he came in as an OCB signing and was training with the first team at the end of the 2015 MLS season,” Stajduhar said of Rocha. “I was training with the first team then, too. We were locker buddies then, kind of developed a good rapport there. Decided to be roommates with him the next year with another guy, Mikey Ambrose. Bonded more closely that year, [Rocha] got signed to the first team.

“Decided to be roommates again, got even tighter. Then, this last year, we were roommates, 2018, roommates again, got even closer. Definitely my best friend, for sure.”

While Rocha was still in Orlando, he said he planned to hang up Stajduhar’s jersey once he’s back in New York.

“It meant a lot,” Rocha said Wednesday night after the Pigeons’ preseason match against the Loons. “Whenever [Stajduhar] makes his debut, I have his jersey, and he knows that I’ll be watching him.”

Stajduhar said he and Rocha “did everything together when he was here.”

“It’s a little different,” Stajduhar said. “We text every day, basically. I got to see him when [NYCFC] was staying down there at ChampionsGate, went down there a couple of times to see him. Definitely been different without him here, for sure.”

Rocha said he definitely has one favorite memory of his team with Stajduhar while the two were in Orlando. 

“I’ve got a lot of good memories, but it’s definitely when he came back and said he did his last round of chemo,” Rocha said. “I was super excited for him.”

Stajduhar sat out last season while battling bone cancer and completed his chemotherapy in June. Stajduhar also has a jersey from fellow goalkeeper and cancer survivor Matt Lampson. 

“Just seeing what he went through and everything and I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for him and just to see that relief on his face that he could get back to playing soccer, I was super elated for him,” Rocha said. 

Rocha was sent to NYCFC in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. Orlando City sent that pick, another fourth-round pick and the top spot in the waiver order to Minnesota United in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft and the fourth spot in the waiver order.

The Loons picked up 33-year-old veteran defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso with the top spot in the waiver order. The pick Orlando City received from NYCFC, which it sent to Minnesota United, sent North Illinois forward Kevin Rodriguez to the Loons.

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