Tony Rocha didn’t know he’d be in Orlando City’s starting XI against the Chicago Fire until the day of the match.
With Amro Tarek gone for international duty and Jonathan Spector out with a concussion, Rocha was still behind Chris Schuler and typical starter Lamine Sané in terms of the club’s true centerbacks. Sané picked up a knock in training earlier in the week but was supposed to be ready to go.
It didn’t work out that way.
Sané’s knock turned out to be a knee injury, and the club has been cautious during his recovery. So, for the Lions’ match against the Fire, the club deployed its sixth centerback pairing of the season: Rocha and Schuler.
“I was excited,” said Rocha, who typically is a midfielder. “I knew it was an important game and to be able to be on the field and try to help the team to win, it was very exciting.
“I thought I did well. … It was my first time back there and I thought me a Schuler were a good partnership back there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win, but I can take a lot of positives from the game.”
Saturday’s match was Rocha’s third start of his Orlando City career. Prior to that, the 24-year-old midfielder spent most of his time with Orlando City B, which suspended operations before the start of the 2018 season.
He started 13 matches for OCB last season.
“It was very beneficial,” Rocha said about getting a chance to start with Orlando City. “I mean, it’s just one game, so I still have a lot of work to do to try to get in the starting lineup for this next weekend. It’s just coming out here and working every day in training and trying to get in the next XI.”
Rocha wasn’t without match minutes heading into Orlando City’s match against the Chicago Fire. He was reunited with former OCB coach Anthony Pulis earlier this season when he was loaned to Saint Louis FC.
Rocha said the club also holds Sunday games for players who didn’t get match minutes.
After Wednesday’s training session, Rocha said communication and organization are the two things he’s worked on heading into the club’s match against NYCFC.
To that end, the return of Spector to full training has been a huge asset for Rocha.
“Talking with [assistant coach CJ Brown] a lot and he says I need to be more of a voice back there,” Rocha said. “I think that’s what we lacked from Spector not being there. Him being back on the field during training has kind of helped me watch what he does out there, his positioning and stuff. Just learning from him.”
It’s likely Rocha will be called on again to play centerback. Schuler broke his arm during the match against the Fire – the plan is to get him back for Orlando City’s June 9 match against Vancouver – and Sané hasn’t been seen at training this week.
Spector still needs to get match fit, despite returning to full training earlier this week.
Kreis said he was pleased with what he saw from Rocha and Schuler. Orlando City has tried different players at centerback during training sessions – Donny Toia during preseason training comes to mind – and Kreis isn’t giving away which players might be the next ones he goes with on match day.
“That’s not going to be answered, sorry,” Kreis said Wednesday with a smile.