Saturday was a bad night for Orlando City, but a special evening for Tommy Redding.
The 18-year-old defender made his Major League Soccer debut for Orlando City in the Lions' scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday -- an unexpected debut, prompted by an unexpected call back to Orlando after being sent out on loan to the Wilmington Hammerheads last week.
Redding made his way into the match as an early substitute for Adrian Heath in the 14th minute when Conor Donovan, who was also making his MLS debut, went down a serious knee injury.
The first Homegrown signing in Orlando City history held his own quite well for about 80 minutes, playing much more like an eight-year veteran than an 18-year-old making his official top flight debut.
"I thought he was very composed, very good on the ball, he read the game well. Tommy is a little one. He has hardly played any football all season," said Head Coach Adrian Heath of Redding's performance. "So, he is absolutely exhausted in there, he is shattered. It is difficult when you have to throw them in when probably they aren't 100 percent ready."
On a night when Orlando City was struggling to put anything together offensively, Redding played a quietly solid passing game, completing every pass he attempted -- short to mid-range alike. Defensively, he was one of Orlando City's best defenders, showing plenty of talent and upside -- a reason why Orlando City made him one of the first MLS signings early in 2014.
Redding, an Oviedo native, didn't have any family members at the game, which was due to the fact that they were all in Wilmington, where he was expected to play for the USL's Hammerheads on Saturday night -- not in MLS with Orlando.
"I mean, it was very unfortunate circumstances for Conor Donovan," said Redding. "It was not the way I really wanted to come in, but it just feels like making my debut at home with all the fans was a great feeling. It was a great night for me."
With Donovan's injury looking serious -- likely season-ending -- the Lions will be forced to keep Redding around for the foreseeable future, Heath said. Donovan started the match after Seb Hines suffered a mid-week knee injury, which also caused Redding to come back from his loan spell.
Summer signing David Mateos joined the team on Saturday, too, and could be ready to play by the time Orlando suits up to take on the Seattle Sounders on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Lions General Manager Paul McDonough told The Mane Land in an exclusive interview on Saturday night that the plan was for Orlando City to sign Mateos this summer, and have him join Hines, Aurelien Collin, and Sean St. Ledger down the stretch. That would let Orlando send both Redding and Donovan out on loan to see playing time. Things change, of course, and now Redding might have to wait a few weeks before he can go back out on loan.
For Orlando City, though -- dropping the two points at home against a not-so-good team aside -- they got a chance on Saturday night to reaffirm their belief in why they have some of the best young defenders in the league. Redding is still just 18 years old, and has plenty of growing to do as a player and an athlete. But there's no reason not to be excited.
"The defensive player's role is key when it comes to composure and ability to make big plays. It is very difficult to do that and he came in and did a fantastic job," goalkeeper Tally Hall said of Redding. "I can't overstate how hard of a position he was put in and he handled like it was nothing. It was awesome and I am happy for him."