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Santiago Patino Impresses in MLS Debut

Orlando’s top 2019 draft choice showed well in limited minutes during his first match.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Orlando City SC Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Santiago Patino made his MLS debut on Saturday, coming on for center back Shane O’Neill in the 74th minute. Although he couldn’t rally the team back from a two-goal deficit in Orlando’s 3-1 loss against Montreal, the 22-year-old Freedom High School product was impressive in his short time on the pitch, despite getting only seven touches on the ball.

It took him a few minutes to get up to game speed, but Patino finished with an assist — giving Dom Dwyer an easy tap-in — a shot, and a chance created in his first professional outing. His performance, though a short one, earned him the fourth best player rating on the team for the match at WhoScored.com (6.60), behind only goal-scorer Dwyer (6.83), Cristian Higuita (6.84), and very busy goalkeeper Brian Rowe (7.35).

The rookie forward, selected No. 3 overall out of Florida International by Orlando City in January’s MLS SuperDraft, showed a strong work ethic, a willingness to use his big frame, and good ball skills in his 16+ minutes on the pitch.

His first involvement was to pressure Bacary Sagna and Victor Cabrera high in the 78th minute, and even though he fouled the latter, he made the Montreal defender uncomfortable and forced him to move with the ball. His next involvement came just after the third Impact goal, when he worked his way into space at the top of the area. The FIU product took a heavy first touch in the 82nd minute, as he tried to turn with the ball to go for goal, but the way he drifted into the space left when Dwyer drew two defenders toward the middle is a good sign for the young striker.

Moments later, he hounded Saphir Taider in the midfield, nearly creating a turnover, and in fact, Taider’s outlet pass to the right soon became a turnover with Sebas Mendez pressing forward. A good give-and-go with Chris Mueller in the 84th minute nearly created a chance for the Lions but a good tackle dispossessed Mueller as he tried to enter the penalty area.

Santiago’s next involvement was to chase in the 86th minute and he forced a turnover via the long ball with his pressure. Montreal kept the ball for about the next four minutes, getting a series of chances and free kicks in Orlando’s end.

When next the rookie saw the ball, he made a play. A ball sprayed out wide to the right found Mueller and the second-year winger found Patino making a lung-busting run up the middle. Patino used his strength to shrug off the foul attempt from behind by Samuel Piette, then had the vision to find Dwyer to his left as Evan Bush came off his line to close down the ball. The rookie made a veteran pass, just easing the ball into Dwyer’s path for an easy finish in the 91st minute.

“I can’t really remember who won the ball in the middle,” Patino said after the match. “They played out to Chris. I saw space, I made a run, Chris played me a great ball, I took a touch and saw Dom making a run, and just gave it to him.”

Late in stoppage time, Patino was heavily involved in a controversial play that nearly saw the Lions pull another goal back. Orlando was given a drop ball to play to Montreal after an injury stoppage for Harry Novillo. Referee Tim Ford had stopped play for a potential head injury and Orlando City players were unhappy about what they felt was a halt in the proceedings after minimal contact, and that Novillo was simply time wasting. Cristian Higuita played the dropped ball to Patino instead of to the Impact and the rookie streaked toward goal. He tried to cross for Dwyer to duplicate the earlier goal, but this time his pass was just a bit out in front, forcing the veteran striker wide.

Dom turned and crossed through the area, finding Patino, who headed a shot into the back of teammate Mueller. Had it not hit Mueller, it might have gone inside the near post for his first MLS goal. After Jukka Raitala knocked the ball out of play, a dust-up ensued as Impact players took exception to Orlando attacking off the restart — an action for which Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor apologized to Montreal after the match.

Shortly after the restart, Patino’s first match came to an end.

All in all, it was an eventful first outing for Patino. The rookie acquitted himself well in front of friends and family in Orlando City Stadium, notching his first career assist and nearly scoring. But without the win, the assist was a bit hollow for him.

“Sometimes it’s like that,” he said. “I got my debut, that’s what I wanted. Unfortunately we didn’t get a result. We’re going to learn from this, keep moving forward and this is going to help us to continue the season.

“Since minute one, I gave everything I had for the team. And we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

If Patino is able to continue moving forward, he could have a bright rookie season ahead of him.