History is not on the side of Orlando City midfielder Danny Deakin, who, after being drafted in the third round of this year’s MLS SuperDraft, is looking to make the Lions’ first-team roster rather than becoming one of the discarded bodies at the end of camp.
Orlando City’s draft history is considerably short compared to most of its MLS counterparts, so it’s tough to make any definitive judgments, but through its first two drafts — in 2015 and 2016 — the club has only gone on to sign two of its four players drafted in the third round or later* — Earl Edwards Jr. and Sydney Rivera, who were drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
*The club did also sign Antonio Matarazzo to a USL deal following the 2016 SuperDraft, but he was let go after the 2016 OCB season.
Deakin, who spent the last two years playing at the University of South Carolina, is aware of the uphill battle that late-round picks typically face in MLS.
“It’s obviously going to be hard for me because I’m an international guy, I’m 23 years old right now,” Deakin said at training last week. “Obviously it’s easier for the Americans. There’s not international spots to worry about. But I always hoped that someone would pick me up, I did well in my two years in D-1 at Carolina. I know I’m good enough. I just have to show it. At least they’ve given me a chance. I’ve been here a couple of weeks now and I’ve been injured this past week, but at least they’re giving me a chance to show what I can do. That’s all I can do and not worry about anything else.”
Orlando City brass spoke highly of the England native at the draft. Deakin spent part of 2016 playing semi-professionally with Detroit City FC, in the NPSL, scoring one goal with two assists over nine matches. At South Carolina, he recorded seven goals and six assists for the Gamecocks over 20 games — finishing second on the team in goals and first in assists, and was named to the First Team All-Conference USA for a second straight season.
His experience with Detroit City FC, he said, definitely helped prepare him for what he can expect while playing in MLS with Orlando City.
“It was great to go play at Detroit,” Deakin said. “All of the fans, and it was a great organization and it really prepared me for the next level because obviously when you’re playing professional soccer you’re playing in front of a lot of fans in that kind of environment. It was great for me to go there and get used to this kind of environment, and I’m enjoying my time with Orlando.”
Going from college players and semi-pros to playing alongside world-class players, like Kaká, has been an experience that Deakin “can’t even put into words” as he tries to watch and pick up everything he can from his elder peers, but he also understands that he’s here to do a job, and needs to stay focused on the task at hand — getting a contract.
As a midfielder, Deakin already started in a tough position from the very beginning. Things haven’t been easy, as he’s battling for a spot in a very deep midfield competition, even with the loss of Kevin Molino, who was traded to Minnesota United FC shortly after the start of preseason. And suffering a groin injury a couple of weeks into camp didn’t help his ability to show Jason Kreis and the coaching staff what he has to offer for the club.
“Yeah, it’s obviously frustrating because I wanted to play in all of the games,” he said. “I was in training for like two days when my groin was hurting and I was giving 50-60 percent, and that wasn’t doing anybody any good, so I just thought to take a week out, recover, then come back, and luckily they let me stick around and now I’m coming back stronger.”
In between fighting for a spot and recovering from training, Deakin hasn’t had much time to discover the city, spending most of his month in a hotel room where he’s been staying.
“We’ve had a lot of double sessions so far, so I’ve basically been in my hotel trying to recover from the double sessions,” Deakin said. “I think I’ve been downtown once, and that was for the photo shoot, so I’ve been around Winter Park and Altamonte Springs, so I’m still trying to get around the city and explore.”
It’s an uphill battle, for sure, but the opportunity is very much there for Deakin to have success at Orlando City.