Hadji Barry's childhood dream is coming to fruition with Orlando City.
The 23-year-old, who moved to Rochester, N.Y., from Guinea when he was just 13 years old, spent two seasons at UCF. It was there where he caught the eye of Lions coaches, who had enough faith in him to trade up in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft nearly two weeks ago to grab the former Knight with the 13th overall selection.
"It's something I've dreamed of since I was a little kid," Barry said of going pro on Monday at Orlando City's first media availability of the season. "So having to be in the position I am now, living the dream that I've always dreamed about feels great. It took me a couple of days to let everything sink in, but I feel good now and ready to work."
During his time at UCF, Barry played with Orlando City's U-23 squad and attended a handful of matches at the Citrus Bowl in 2015. That drew him to the club.
What struck him as the most impressive thing about seeing the club play first-hand?
"The fans," he said without hesitation. "The fans were great this past season. I came to a couple of games and the atmosphere was unbelievable, I'm excited to be a part of that."
But did he actually see himself one day joining Kaká and company?
"Actually, I did [see myself playing for Orlando City]," Barry said. "Coming to a lot of games this past season, I always saw myself being a part of the family, so I'm happy being a part of Orlando City."
Being a first-round draft pick comes with plenty of expectations. Barry, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection who scored 11 goals in 17 games with UCF in 2015, will be given every shot at winning a spot on Orlando City's opening day roster. But ultimately, Barry is sure to be ticketed to OCB, where he'll be able to get a larger share of the starting minutes. With the first team, the 5-foot-11 midfielder/forward will have a tough time breaking into a starting lineup with players such as Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino and Carlos Rivas in his way.
It's a similar situation to the one faced by Barry's former teammate at UCF, Romario Williams, who was selected third overall by the Montreal Impact in 2015.
"Me and Romario have been great friends ever since I came to UCF, so we talk every day and he's given me a lot of good advice," Barry said. "He's like a brother to me, so he told me, ‘Just come every day to practice and just work hard, but you never know once you're gonna get your chance, but when you get it you gotta make the best of it.' So I'm just working every day, waiting for my opportunity, and once I get that I have to make the best out of it."
Whether with the first team in MLS or in Melbourne playing with OCB, Barry is living the soccer dream he set out to accomplish nearly 10 years ago.
"It still feels like I'm dreaming, but I'm enjoying the experience," he said. "It's great to be here, part of Orlando City. I'm enjoying every bit of it."