Seb Hines has had a roller coaster of a ride in the Sunshine State so far.
Born in Wetherby, England, Hines started his soccer career with Middlesbrough. Technically part of the English side for 10 years, Hines only made 87 appearances and spent a large time out on loan. He had short stints with England's youth national team, but knee injuries severely affected his career. He was loaned away from Middlesbrough four times, before finally being signed by Orlando City on loan on Feb. 24, 2015.
In his 10 years playing professionally in England, Hines made a total of 104 appearances for Middlesbrough, Coventry City, Middlesbrough U-23s, Oldham Athletic, and Derby County. The defender found the back of the net six times and added four assists. On the discipline side, Hines never got a red card and accumulated just 13 yellow cards, averaging just one card every eight games. While in Orlando, he averages a card every 4.2 games.
Even though Hines did not get an awful lot of games under his belt relative to the time he spent in England, he came to Orlando with valuable experience. With what was a young and inexperienced team at the time, Hines' experiences made him a leader among his fellow Lions. However, things did not work out for the center back the way it was planned.
2015 - 2016
Hines' first ever game in purple perfectly summarizes much of his career in Orlando. In a 2-2 draw against Swedish Club BK Häcken, Hines first gave up a penalty kick and then found the back of the net. His preseason performances were altogether effective and then-Head Coach Adrian Heath was satisfied with the new signing.
The center back won the starting position to start out the Lions’ inaugural MLS year, and played the majority of the 2015 season. His form fluctuated up and down, and he struggled with consistency. Overall his play was good enough to keep his starting spot in a frustrating year for Orlando.
The next year is when things started to go downhill. Hines' inconsistent form, combined with more injuries and the signing of Jose Aja, resulted in a loss of his starting spot. Hines was slow and caught out of position as ongoing knee issues restricted his range of motion. He had difficulty reading the opposition and this led to Orlando reaching a league-worst 60 goals allowed. The only positive for Hines was that the entire defense was poor as Orlando finished with one of the worst defenses in the league, so he was not the only disappointing defender and chemistry may have played a role in that.
Some fans were ecstatic when the club did not re-sign the Englishman, as his play did not warrant an extension and there were better options both available to sign and already on the team. Then he was unexpectedly given a new contract in January, and the defensive woes of 2016 flashed before many Lions supporters' eyes. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his new contract was the three years in length, as the then-28-year-old was plagued with injuries and not of starting caliber.
Coming into this year it looked like Hines would once again play an integral part of the Lions' defense. On the bench in Orlando's season opening 1-0 win against New York City FC, Hines then missed the next five games with yet another knee injury. After Orlando won four of those five games and gave up only six goals, it looked like Hines was out of the picture in Central Florida.
When Hines returned to fitness, that was exactly the case. The team was playing the best soccer in its short MLS history and newly signed defender Jonathan Spector was one of the best defenders in the league. With Spector, Tommy Redding, and Aja all in the first-team picture, Hines was forced down to OCB.
In his situation, Hines certainly could have conceded that he was not good enough for MLS, finished out the year in Orlando, and then moved on. However, Hines did the one thing that no one expected — he fought to get back into Jason Kreis' plans.
While in the USL, the center back became a familiar face with the young Lions, and OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis took full advantage of Hines' size, experience, and ability. For one of the first times in his career, Hines was healthy and his top-notch performances helped OCB to a 12-game unbeaten run, even finding himself on the USL Team of the Week for his standout play.
Since its inception, OCB has been a developmental side. It is used to help younger players work their way up into the MLS. With that also comes the opportunity to give older players on the MLS roster a chance to recover after injuries and return to form. Hines took full advantage of this system by constantly being one of the best players on the field.
With the Lions on an eight-game winless streak, Kreis could no longer ignore the one defender who has constantly put up good performances, albeit in the USL. Given another — and possibly last — opportunity with Orlando City, Hines got his first MLS start in almost a calendar year. Hines once again took full advantage of the situation, and not only helped the Lions to a 2-1 away win, but he was also one of the best players on the field. Hines controlled the back line and worked with Redding like the two have been playing all year together.
Hines was awarded a bench role two weeks later in Portland, but after Spector received a second yellow early in the second half, Hines was called into action. A man down, Hines and Redding worked together again for a much improved defensive effort than the first half. He could have done better to find the back of the net on multiple set pieces, but defensively he held strong. In a game where Orlando was pitiful, Hines, along with Joe Bendik, was a rare positive on the night.
Since that loss in Portland, Hines has played every MLS minute and was a candidate for Man of the Match in both games. His tackles have been perfectly timed, his communication is second to none, and these past few weeks the Lions' defense has looked as good as it has since its beginning of the season run where Orlando was the best in the league. He even scored his first goal of the year in the 6-1 thrashing of New England.
Just how dominant has Hines been? Since early September of last year, Seb Hines has not lost a game that he has started and played the first five minutes of. That is good enough for 38 points in 18 games. Orlando City currently has 39 points in 32 games. Additionally, Hines found the back of the net twice this year for Orlando City and OCB, which is better than Redding, Spector, Aja, and Pereira combined.
Hines has definitely had his ups and down in his career and with Orlando, but he is currently the best defender to partner with Spector that Kreis has. This is the first time that Lions fans have seen Hines with two healthy knees, and for the first time in his MLS career, he is proving his worth.