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Where Are They Now? Former Orlando City Homegrown Defender Tommy Redding on Trial with Columbus Crew SC

The former U.S. youth international has had a series of injuries that have blocked his progression.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Former Orlando City Homegrown defender Tommy Redding was one of the club’s prized prospects. The 21-year-old (he’ll turn 22 tomorrow) made 16 appearances with Orlando in the 2014 USL days after starring for the U.S. U-17 team and seeing some time with the U-18s as well. He was designated as a Homegrown Player by Major League Soccer and was deemed an important part of the club’s future.

Fast forward five years and he’s now played for two MLS clubs and is trying to catch on with a third. He was listed as a trialist on the Columbus Crew’s preseason roster today as the Ohio club participated in its first preseason training session.

Things didn’t go as planned in Orlando for the original MLS Lion. Redding was no more inconsistent than any other teenager thrust into top flight games and showed flashes of why the club valued his skill set. He was mobile, good with his feet, and defended well in 1-v-1 situations. The flaws in his game weren’t numerous and didn’t seem insurmountable. He was inconsistent in the air and sometimes could be fooled into taking a wrong step in quick buildup play, but that’s not uncommon with young center backs.

But Redding had to deal with some roadblocks along the way that have put his development on hold and given him detours in his young career. He made his MLS debut on Aug. 8, 2015, coming off the bench to replace Conor Donovan, who wrecked his knee in his MLS debut — in a 0-0 home draw against the Philadelphia Union. It was not the way Redding would have hoped to get on the field for the first time in MLS but it gave him his start shortly after he was recalled from a loan stint with the Wilmington Hammerheads.

Redding was often paired with Aurelien Collin early in his career. Typically a young center back can benefit from playing alongside an established veteran defender. However, Collin isn’t a typical center back. The Frenchman has a penchant for improvisation and aggressive play that can — and did — bend the back line out of shape and leave a less experienced partner indecisive about how to react. Not knowing where your central defense partner is going to be at any given time is not the most nurturing environment for a teenager.

After his first year in MLS, Redding had made two appearances — one start — for 87 total minutes. Redding’s second year in Orlando saw a big jump in playing time. He made 18 appearances (16 starts), playing 1,346 minutes. He played in 18 more games (14 starts) in 2017 for a career high 1,406 minutes. He might have played in more if not for a stint with the United States U-20 Men’s National Team, when he appeared in two of his team’s five matches in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Unfortunately, his three seasons in Orlando were marred by injuries. Redding’s second ever appearance and first MLS start was cut short after a head-to-head collision with teammate Rafael Ramos in an eventual 2-1 home win over the Montreal Impact. Tommy’s replacement, Seb Hines, went on to score the game-winning goal in the 80th minute.

Redding also dealt with a nasty and painful case of plantar fasciitis during his time in Orlando. The young defender’s connective tissue in the arch of his foot was inflamed to the point of causing severe pain in his heel and the bottom of his foot.

Before the 2018 season, Redding and Carlos Rivas were sent to the New York Red Bulls as part of the deal that brought Sacha Kljestan to Orlando on Jan. 3 of last year. With his new team, Redding made only one MLS appearance, ironically in a full 90-minute showing at Orlando City Stadium against the Lions. City won that back-and-forth affair, 4-3. He also made two appearances in the USL with New York Red Bulls II. But a torn labrum derailed his first and only season in New York. After attempting to rehab his ailing shoulder he bit the bullet in early August and had season-ending surgery to get his shoulder reconstructed.

Redding is now trying to come back from that surgery with the Crew. Five months after having major surgery, it’s not surprising that he isn’t in top soccer shape yet. He reportedly lagged behind others in jogging drills and opted out before they were complete.

“We’ll see. There are a lot of center backs, obviously, and we have some good quality in that position,” Crew Head Coach Caleb Porter said of Redding’s chances after today’s training session. “I’m always open to taking a look at guys and we’ll take a look at him and see how he does...It’ll be tough to crack into this group.”

Hopefully Redding will be able to get into game shape and show the Crew what he can do. It will be an uphill battle for the former OCSC Homegrown on a playoff club with a solid back line and decent defensive depth. He’s currently the seventh center back on the preseason roster. But it’s also a good opportunity for Redding to resurrect his career, whether he catches on with Columbus or uses this trial as a springboard to finding another club.

Guilherme Torres also contributed to this story.