Orlando City announced today that forward Wilfredo Rivera has signed as the club’s ninth ever Homegrown Player. The Lions inked Rivera to a three-year contract with club options in 2024 and 2025. Rivera is the youngest player (17 years, five months, eight days) to sign with the first team since Tommy Redding in 2014 (17 years, one month, 15 days).
Rivera became the sixth Homegrown Player on Orlando City’s roster, joining defender Michael Halliday, goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, midfielders Jordan Bender and David Loera, and forward Benji Michel.
“Wilfredo is another great example of the talent coming out of our academy,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “We’re excited for Wilfredo to join the first team and represent this community wearing our badge. He adds speed and depth to our lineup and exemplifies the developmental vision that we have for the youth of this club.”
Rivera, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, joined the Orlando City Development Academy in 2018, playing with the U-16 side, after arriving from Jacksonville FC. He has been training with the first team since the start of camp at IMG Academy.
Last season, Rivera appeared in 15 matches with Orlando City B (all starts), scoring three goals to lead the Young Lions in that category. He also added an assist and totaled 11 shots on target. He created 17 scoring chances on the season, tying Moises Tablante for the team lead. A tenacious player with a high motor, Rivera finished with a 61.1% tackle success rate in 2020. He won 41 fouls while conceding just 17, and received only two yellow cards.
Rivera has one cap with the Puerto Rican national team and has appeared three times with Puerto Rico’s U-17 team. He’s also had a call-up to the United States U-16 camp in 2018.
What It Means for Orlando City
Rivera had committed to the University of South Florida back in December, but it appears now that he’ll remain with the Lions while continuing his development. He was one of the bright spots in a dismal season for OCB last year, as the Young Lions finished dead last in USL League One and struggled to score goals or even to connect in the final third oftentimes.
Listed officially at just 5-foot-6, Rivera isn’t big, so he’ll have to develop the strength to deal with the physicality of Major League Soccer. He is young enough that a growth spurt isn’t out of the realm of possibility. However, many short players have succeeded in MLS, and Rivera’s quickness and tenacity will help him compete, even if he doesn’t grow another inch. It’s unclear if his MLS future will be as a forward or if he’ll shift to the wing or to an attacking midfield position.
While Rivera will not be expected to log a lot of minutes for the MLS side in 2021, he’ll be training with and learning from the likes of Mauricio Pereyra, Nani, Alexandre Pato, and Silvester van der Water every day. This should help with his development as a player. The fact that Orlando City committed to him for three years with two additional club option years is a sign that the club thinks highly of the 17-year-old’s future.