A lot has been made about midfielder Lewis Neal signing a contract with Orlando City’s reserve side, Orlando City B, and the impact he will have. But, while Neal will be the most well-known former senior team player to join the USL outfit, there’s another player returning to help his former club.
In 2008, an 18-year-old midfielder on his way to Stetson University joined the PDL’s Central Florida Kraze. Colombian-born Jonathan Mendoza had relocated to Altamonte Springs, where he attended Lyman High School. During his five years with the Kraze, the team was purchased by a new professional team and renamed Orlando City U-23.
Mendoza was signed by the Lions to play on the senior team for the 2013 USL Pro season. A part-time player for Adrian Heath’s side, Mendoza made 20 appearances for the Lions during that championship run. However, as the club built a roster focused on transitioning to MLS, Mendoza found himself on the outside looking in and joined fellow USL franchise Rochester Rhinos.
The role of the midfielder this season will likely be very similar to that of Neal. Turning 26 on Tuesday, Mendoza will be the second oldest player on the team, including the senior team players likely to play for Orlando City B this coming season.
At 26, and being a career USL player, it’s unlikely that Mendoza will ever take part in MLS action but that doesn’t mean he won’t play a key role for the club. With vast experience wearing Orlando City purple, Neal and Mendoza will be relied upon by OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis to help the young players acclimate to Heath’s style and the club culture.
While the players will be training with the senior team during the week, they’ll be left on their own during games in Melbourne. And the senior team players on loan at OCB will be too focused on getting into the first team to worry about bringing up young talent. Pulis and his assistant, former Lions captain Rob Valentino, will do what they can, but it will be up to Neal and Mendoza to lead by example as coaches on the field.
It should also be easy for Mendoza to transition back to Orlando City’s style and culture. Since the club’s inception in 2010, Heath has made a point of creating a certain culture that would be ingrained in players from the academy, through the U-23 and reserve teams, so they’re prepared when they reach the senior team. Having spent six years with the club prior to his two-year hiatus with the Rhinos, Mendoza is well acclimated to the environment.
Playing on the inaugural MLS team, Neal is well-known both to the long-time fans and to the ones who have recently jumped on the bandwagon. But an important piece playing a similar role that new fans may not be aware of is Jonathan Mendoza. However, they’ll get familiar with the returning player this season as he returns home to join Orlando City B.