KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Every time he sets a goal for the 2020 season — to suit up for a game, to play, to start, to score — Orlando city rookie David Loera is listing one of his childhood dreams.
The midfielder signed a Homegrown contract in December after spending his entire youth development in the Orlando City academy, becoming the sixth Homegrown signing in the club’s history.
For Loera, the first week of preseason training has felt somewhat surreal.
“This is something that I dreamt of since I was younger, watching the guys play and hoping to be in their shoes one day,” Loera said. “It means the world to me. Honestly. It means the world to me.”
Loera’s first memory on the pitch sticks out plainly. He was 6, still several years away from joining the academy. Mid-game, the ball popped up into the air, and Loera launched himself into a bicycle kick, scoring to a raucous cheer from his teammates.
He was young, but something stuck. Loera already knew he loved soccer as more than just a game to play after school. Several years later, he began his path toward a professional career.
For much of Loera’s time at the academy, there was talk of signing Loera to a Homegrown contract and he grew hopeful when he reached 17, then 18 years old. But the plans never became concrete, so Loera turned to the college route, signing with NC State.
He went on to enjoy a successful career with the Wolfpack — starting in all 57 of his appearances, netting nine goals and adding 15 assists while racking up ACC accolades — but Loera started to feel lost on his path to MLS.
“You start to question yourself,” Loera said. “I didn’t know what I was gonna do because technically [I was] still a Homegrown.”
After moving to North Carolina, Loera felt his chances with Orlando City might be dwindling. But when Luiz Muzzi took over the role of vice president of soccer operations in December 2018, he began to reach out to former Homegrown players who had lost touch with the club.
Loera was one of them and he was relieved to hear from Orlando City as he entered his third season at NC State.
“When Luiz reached out to us, I was very, very happy and I was just very thankful that he did that,” Loera said. “It kind of made me — as well as all the other players that played with me that went on to college — just believe and keep working, knowing this is still a possibility.”
Scouting director Ricardo Moreira reached out shortly after Muzzi, letting Loera know scouts would be attending several of his games. At the end of his junior season, Loera signed a Homegrown contract, cementing his return to Orlando.
Despite the new facility and new coach, much of Loera’s first week with the Lions has felt like a homecoming. He grew up in the academy with Benji Michel and went to high school with Santiago Patiño, and he feels he fits well into the wide pool of local talent Muzzi has added to the Lions’ roster.
With the addition of Loera and Jordan Bender, this year’s Orlando City roster includes five players who came up through the team’s academy.
Michel’s and Patiño’s success last year — combining for seven goals and two assists in MLS play — has made it clear local players can make an impact for the Lions, even in their rookie seasons. During training, Loera said the group works to support and motivate each other.
“We try to look out for each other, but that being said, you know, we push each other as well,” Loera said. “This is just the starting point for us and we just want to continue to keep going. It’s awesome that we all kind of came up to the academy and have that relationship beforehand.”
On the first day of preseason, Loera put on a purple kit for the first time in three years. As the Lions trained, a small throng of academy players watched from the sidelines, pointing and analyzing the first team in the same way Loera had throughout his childhood.
Loera didn’t take the moment for granted.
“It brought back a lot of memories from when I was younger,” Loera said. “I live in this city, I love it. I grew up in purple and I just want to represent this club as much as I can, for as long as I can.”