CHICAGO — Orlando City got its man in forward Santiago Patino during Friday’s MLS SuperDraft, but executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi said the FIU standout should have been recognized as a Homegrown player.
Patino, a graduate of Freedom High in Orlando, played for Orlando City’s development academy (specifically, the under-18s) for seven or eight months — according to Patino — before going to FIU. Patino’s Homegrown status was challenged by the league when Orlando City tried to sign him, and the deal fell through.
“I don’t know how to say this, but I feel like we were did wrong by the league,” he said. “[Patino] is a Homegrown. We could have traded, we could have received some money, we could have done something different, and we had we use that No. 3 on something that we feel is ours anyway, right?
“We feel like the league did us wrong on this one.”
Homegrown players are valuable in MLS because their salaries don’t count against the cap and a club receives 100 percent of the fees associated with the transfer or loan of a Homegrown player.
Regarding Homegrown players, the league’s roster rules say, “A club may sign a player to a contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and has met the necessary training and retention requirements.”
A spokesperson for the league said Patino didn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to be a Homegrown player.
Patino was selected with the No. 3 overall pick. Muzzi said the club had trade offers for the pick, but wanted Patino.
Muzzi said the league didn’t have the “proper documentation” regarding Patino’s Homegrown status.
“Whatever that means,” Muzzi said regarding the lack of proper documentation. “I think I said that the other day, that’s in the past. I’m going to look at that as how we’re going to get better and how we’re going to improve. I’m not going to look at it and say bad things about things that happened in the past. They couldn’t find the paperwork.
“Even Santiago sent emails to the league saying, ‘I’m a Homegrown. I played for the team. I have minutes training and all that,’ and no.”
Muzzi said he’s determined to make sure this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.
Orlando City head coach James O’Connor said he was initially told Patino was a Homegrown player.
“Delighted to get Santi,” he said.
“I think the main thing for us was to make sure that we got Santiago. I think both Luiz and myself didn’t want anyone who we feel is a Homegrown going and playing for anybody else. I think we want to make sure we send a message to all the other Homegrowns that are in college and that are out there that we are very intentional about trying to develop players and bring players through our system.”