This weekend was one of the most anticipated in the world of soccer with the start of the Premier League season. With all of the European leagues either having started or preparing to, it’s time to take a look at where former Orlando City players are playing across the Atlantic.
Adama Mbengue — SM Caen
On June 21, 2012, Orlando City promoted the Senegalese midfielder to the first team from the club’s PDL side, Orlando City U-23. Mbengue soon became a regular for Adrian Heath’s USL side, making 64 appearances with 51 starts and scoring eight goals with seven assists. The young star was offered an MLS contract for the club’s inaugural MLS campaign in 2015 but turned it down to return to Senegal.
Little was heard of the former Lion until he was signed by French Ligue 1 club SM Caen prior to last season. Since then, Mbengue has become a regular for the first division team at left back.
John Rooney — Barrow AFC
The younger brother of English legend Wayne Rooney, John came to Orlando City in 2012 after playing for the New York Red Bulls. The striker scored twice in nine league appearances for the Lions and recorded a brace in the U.S. Open Cup against the KC Athletics.
Following his departure from Orlando, Rooney has bounced around the English lower leagues, playing for Barnsley, Bury, Chester, Wrexham, and Guiseley. This season, Rooney will be playing for Barrow AFC of the National League, England’s fifth-highest division.
Estrela — Varzim SC
During 2014, as Orlando City played its final USL season and prepared for its MLS debut, the club brought in a pair of young players through its affiliation with Portuguese giants S.L. Benfica in Rafael Ramos and Estrela. The latter was expected to be a key part of Adrian Heath’s young core in MLS but the defensive midfielder didn’t quite pan out. He made six starts in 2014, scoring a goal, and didn’t appear in 2015, leaving the club following that season.
Today, Estrela plies his trade with Varzim SC of LigaPro, Portugal’s second division. After a brief stay in Greece in 2016, the midfielder has been a regular in Portugal as he attempts to reach Portugal’s top division.
Rafael Ramos — FC Twente
The newest former Lion to travel to Europe is defender Rafael Ramos. Arriving with Estrela from Benfica, Ramos began sharing time with Tyler Turner at right back and soon became a regular for Adrian Heath. The only player on this list to make appearances in both the USL and MLS for the club, Ramos made four appearances near the end of 2014 before starting at right back in 2015. He would go on to make 44 appearances during the MLS era before departing for Chicago following the 2017 season.
In January of this year, Orlando City traded Ramos to the Chicago Fire for midfielder Cam Lindley. After making just three appearances for the Fire this season, his contract was terminated, freeing him to sign with FC Twente of the Eerste Divisie (the Dutch second division) last week.
Cyle Larin — Beşiktaş JK
Striker Cyle Larin was Orlando City’s first-ever MLS draft pick out of the University of Connecticut. After beginning his career as a backup, he would soon force his way into Heath’s starting lineup, becoming the club’s all-time leading goal scorer. Overall, Larin made 89 appearances over three years, scoring 44 goals.
While Larin has the most success as a Lion on this list, he also had the most public and difficult breakup. After improving in 2016, Larin regressed in a disappointing 2017 season. Despite his struggles, both on and off the field, big clubs like Borussia Mönchengladbach came to view the striker. During preseason, Larin began training with Beşiktaş JK in Turkey, of which Orlando City said it had no knowledge. Eventually, Larin was sold to the UEFA Champions League participants where he currently plays.
David Mateos — Hapoel Hadera
A product of Real Madrid’s academy, David Mateos joined Orlando City during the club’s inaugural MLS season in 2015. After making six appearances, he continued as a starter in 2016, making 22 appearances in all competitions.
After a second straight disappointing season, the Lions revamped their defensive line, which included the departure of Mateos. He moved back to Spain where he joined Real Murcia of the third division, before moving to Israel where he joined Hapoel Hadera. The 31-year-old remains there today.
Adrian Winter — FC Zürich
Midfielder Adrian Winter joined Orlando City during the 2015 MLS season and soon became a fan favorite. His status among the fans grew when he scored the game-tying goal against Real Salt Lake five minutes into injury time to start the 2016 season. In July of that year, he returned to Switzerland citing personal reasons.
Upon his return to Switzerland, Winter joined FC Zürich, where he’s been a regular with the first team. When Swiss international Scott Sutter arrived in 2017, he said Winter raved about the club when asked his thoughts, sparking rumors the popular midfielder could one day return. But there’s been no evidence of that...yet.
Antonio Nocerino — Benevento Calcio
The most famous and successful player on this list is Antonio Nocerino. Prior to joining Orlando City, the midfielder played for Genoa, Palermo, Juventus, AC Milan, and the Italian national team. Exiting his prime, he came to Orlando City to join his friend Kaká. Nocerino made 55 appearances in two seasons in Orlando before departing after the 2017 season.
Following his departure from Orlando, rumors started to spread about where the aging Italian would end up. Eventually, he returned to his native country, signing with Benevento Calcio. After being relegated last season, Nocerino will spend this year in Serie B.