MLS Combine competition kicked off on Saturday morning at Orlando City Stadium. Although it was a big day for all of the prospects trying to show their abilities ahead of Friday’s MLS SuperDraft, it was particularly special for Orlando native Santiago Patino, a forward playing for Team Nemeziz at the Combine.
“It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a really nice stadium and the MLS Combine has been great for us hotel-wise, expectations…everything,” said the Florida International product. “It’s nice to play with guys who are really good and the atmosphere is really good.”
Patino was nearly an Orlando City Homegrown prospect. He fell a few months shy of the required time in the OCSC academy, playing as a U-18 with the club during his senior year of high school. Although the club wanted to sign the 6-foot-1 striker, it wasn’t to be.
“I spoke with Orlando and I know they wanted to do a Homegrown deal but for some reason it didn’t happen,” he said.
MLS Homegrown Player rules require players to be in the academy for a year, so Patino fell just short of the mark. Still, it would be a big deal for him to be selected in the upcoming SuperDraft by his hometown team. The Lions have seven selections in the draft this year.
“It would be a pleasure to play in Orlando City,” said Patino. “I’m from here. My family lives here. I would love to play here.”
Patino’s Orlando roots include attending Freedom High School, where he was named the Orange County Athlete of the Year as a senior. He also played in the NPSL with Kraze United.
His first time on the pitch at OCS went well. Patino played a solid game, making a timely run to get in behind the defense to set himself up for a shot and also making a pinpoint through ball that ended up as an assist on a goal by Michigan State forward DeJuan Jones. It was the first goal of the Combine and led to a 4-1 win by Team Nemeziz over Team Copa.
Being involved in goals is nothing new for Patino. He was involved in 46 of them in his four years at FIU. As a freshman, he scored two goals with one assist in 18 games, although he started only five times. His sophomore year he produced eight goals and an assist in 17 games (12 starts). He appeared in a career high 18 games (all starts) in his junior season of 2017 and set career highs in goals (15) and assists (5). He added 12 goals and two assists in his senior season in 2018 in 16 matches (all starts).
Patino was a second-team All-Southeast Region selection in 2018 and won the Conference USA Golden Boot. He was named to his all-conference first team as a senior and a junior and was a Mac Hermann Trophy semifinalist in 2017. As a junior, he also made the first team All-Southeast Region squad and was the Conference USA Player of the Year.
Patino is built like a forward. He’s got good size and uses it well to box out defenders and bring teammates into the attack. His instincts on when to make a run seemed solid from my one game of watching him in person and his awareness of his teammates on the pitch was pretty good despite having never played with them before yesterday. The lack of familiarity with his teammates was just something Patino took in stride.
“You’re not used to them. You’re not used to what they like, what they don’t like,” he said. Everybody’s in the same shoes, so it’s no advantage to anyone.”
One thing that Patino understands well is what his role is on the field and what he’s supposed to do at the Combine, as he tries to leave his mark not only on Orlando City, but on all of the MLS scouts and technical directors watching.
“As a nine you need to be able to hold the ball, you need to be able to combine, you need to be able to create space for yourself, finish them, and that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “I think I did a good job. I showed that I’m strong, that I can hold the ball and that I can connect my passes. There’s more stuff I can do. Today I didn’t get enough chances but we’ll get to that. I’m just trying to do my best and enjoy it.”