It is no secret that Orlando City has had issues with its defense, and so this off-season Head Coach Jason Kreis made it a point to revamp the defensive line. Tommy Redding was a survivor of the defensive changes, and in the future could be Orlando City’s No. 1 choice at center back. But for the 20-year-old Lion, there is still work to be done.
Redding is currently playing with the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team. After losing its opening group stage match, the U.S. finds itself in a hole and a must-win game against Haiti. Failure to win will almost certainly eliminate them from U-20 World Cup Qualifying.
For Redding, this will be his last chance to play in an international youth tournament, and failure to progress would be a major roadblock in reaching his potential. The most obvious benefit that Orlando’s first Homegrown signing would get is more high-quality match experience. Playing for your country, away from home, in must-win scenarios means that no mistakes can be made. One lapse of concentration, poor clearance, or turnover — especially from a center back — could mean the difference between moving on or going home.
Redding is also a leader for the U.S. U-20s. He captained a few friendlies at the end of the 2016 calendar year, and while he is not wearing the captain’s armband during the CONCACAF Championship, he is still someone the other players look up to. Having broken into the Orlando City side in 2016, he is one of the few players with senior club experience. Being one of the more experienced players for the USA youth team, Redding is a focal point in Tab Ramos’ setup.
There is also pressure to win that Redding has not yet faced as a professional. Playing for club is one thing, but when a player pulls on their country’s uniform, it is a different experience.
Firstly, all that matters is the win. Most people around the world, especially for youth teams, will not watch the game, but just see a score. Redding can be the Man of the Match, but if the U.S. loses no one will remember it. In addition, being part of the youth setup means a direct line up to the senior squad. Anything that happens within the youth setup, both good and bad, and Bruce Arena will be the first to know of it.
And finally, a loss does not just affect the few members of the team, as it does for clubs, but all players in the nation. If the U.S. is knocked out, all youth players in the national team setup will lose out on the vital experience of playing for their nation.
So how does all of this translate to Redding breaking into the Orlando City starting XI? Well, put it all together and come end-of-game and end-of-season situations, Redding will have done it all already. He will have had the experience of playing in a must-win game, and will have learned how to react in different situations. The skill sets that he learns from playing in the U-20 World Cup will help make him a star defender in MLS.
Now imagine if U.S. does not qualify. Redding will be learning all of this in October when Orlando City faces a must-win game to get into the MLS Cup playoffs. As a 20-year-old with only top-flight appearances, odds are he will make some mistakes.
For the sake of both Redding and Orlando City, the USA needs to get into the U-20 World Cup.