As first reported Friday by Eli Lesser on Instagram and was later confirmed by ProSoccerUSA.com, Orlando City has officially made its fifth Homegrown Player signing of the club’s MLS era in forward Benji Michel out of the University of Portland. Given Orlando’s need to bolster the attack, this is a strong move from the club, although it may take Michel some time to adjust to the professional game. He’s been a standout at every step of his career so far.
The 21-year-old Orlando native spent 2013 through 2016 playing for Orlando City’s U-17/18 academy team and attended Montverde Academy before heading to the University of Portland to play college soccer. While in Orlando, he scored 25 goals for development academy and also played club locally for Florida Rush and FC America.
Michel was the leading goal scorer at Montverde Academy, where he helped lead SIMA during its 136-game unbeaten streak. Montverde won the 2016 MAST tournament championship, and was the consensus National Champion in 2013, 2014, and 2015. He also scored the game-winner for Montverde in a friendly against he New York Red Bulls in a 1-0 game.
Over the three years with the Portland Pilots, Michel made 53 appearances (51 starts), recording an impressive 31 goals and eight assist. He took a total of 132 shots with 68 on goal for a 51.5 percent shots-on-goal average.
His best year was in 2018, when he scored 11 goals with two assists, which included seven game winners. He was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-American second team for his efforts.
Michel is the club’s fifth all-time Homegrown signing, following defenders Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding, midfielder Harrison Heath, and goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, although other players have held the Homegrown tag for the Lions, such as Cam Lindley, and most recently, Danilo Acosta.
What It Means for Orlando City
The signing of the young striker is welcome news for the Lions. Orlando City finished tied with Columbus Crew SC for last in the Eastern Conference last season in goals scored, with 43. The only MLS team with fewer was the Colorado Rapids, with 36. Of those 43 goals, Dom Dwyer scored 13. The next-highest scorer on the team was Sacha Kljestan, with six.
While Dwyer played most of the season, recording 26 appearances and 2,244 league minutes, his backup was Stéfano Pinho who was signed from Miami United FC following his hat-trick performance against the Lions during the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. However, Pinho was largely a disappointment, only scoring twice in 594 minutes. This left midfielder Josué Colmán playing up top while Dwyer was injured early in the season.
The signing of Michel adds an attacking threat to the Lions roster. Last year, Head Coach James O’Connor lamented the lack of balance on the roster, stating that two strikers on a team of 30 players wasn’t enough. He vowed that it was change and the Homegrown signing of Michel leads the team in that direction.
Here’s a glimpse of what Michel can do: