BRADENTON, Fla. — While recruiting Ecuadorian midfielder Jhegson Sebastián “Sebas” Méndez, Orlando City coach James O’Connor did more than just paint a picture of a team determined to win.
O’Connor highlighted how the Lions could help Méndez, who wanted to go somewhere to improve as a player. He felt O’Connor was the coach who could help him take the next step.
“It’s important when a coach shows interest not just in the team, but a personal interest in your development as a player,” Méndez said through a translator.
Méndez was signed by Orlando City from Ecuadorian Serie A side Independiente del Valle. The 21-year-old midfielder appeared in 81 total competitions for the club and has been capped five times for Ecuador’s men’s national team.
“I like to treat the ball well,” Méndez said. “Take care of the ball. I like to make that final pass, also get involved in the attack and try to score some goals and make [players] feel comfortable that they have somebody in the back supporting them. In general, just whatever the team needs so that they can get good results.”
He was signed a day after the club sold all-star midfielder Yoshimar Yotún to Liga MX club Cruz Azul for $4 million. Speaking to Pro Soccer USA before the MLS Combine, Orlando City executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi said the team got a good replacement for Yotún in Méndez.
“Very good player,” Muzzi said. “Been following him for a long time. I’m really super excited.”
In a statement, Muzzi said, “There was a lot of international interest in him, and we are thrilled he chose Orlando and MLS as his next career move. Looking forward to integrating him into the roster next season.”
Méndez said Orlando City truly feels like a family for him. Obviously, the Lions’ Spanish-speaking players like Carlos Ascues and Cristian Higuita have helped him adjust to the United States, but other players have stepped up.
“Chris Mueller, Dom Dwyer [have] also made me feel comfortable,” he said. “I’m happy and everybody has made me feel comfortable, so I’m just hoping to help the team to achieve good results.”
For now, Méndez’s family isn’t in the U.S. with him. He said he’s hoping to change that soon by bringing his parents to Orlando.
He said for now, he’s focused on preseason training.
“It’s an experience I want to provide for them,” he said. “They’ve supported me throughout my career, and it’ll be nice for me to reward them with an experience to come here. Right now, the focus is on the preseason and once the season starts, I’ll worry more about bringing them over.”
Like Orlando City’s other new players, Méndez said he was ready for the intensity O’Connor brings to training each day. The club is in Bradenton for the first two weeks of preseason training and will return to Central Florida after a Saturday scrimmage against the New York Red Bulls.
“It’s been intense, but we understand, and we have the mentality that we need to work hard so we achieve our goals, which [are] obviously make the playoffs and hopefully reach for a championship,” he said. “As a group, we have taken information well. We understand that it is something necessary to achieve the results.”