By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Orlando City B defender Mikey Ambrose had been a soccer fixture in Texas for much of his playing career.
Aside from his collegiate days at Maryland and some time with the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team’s Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., he has always called Texas home on the pitch – his youth career, PDL with the Austin Aztex, and then the USL when the Aztex joined the league for the 2015 season.
With the USL expanding for 2016 and the Aztex on a one-year hiatus next season, the opportunity arose for Ambrose to join one of the league’s newest clubs. OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis expressed that he was interested in Ambrose’s services and the 22-year-old El Paso native jumped at the chance.
“Anthony Pulis called me and explained everything and told me how amazing the organization,” said Ambrose, who was introduced as one of the club’s first players in October. “I was excited to come down to Orlando. It’s been nothing but exceptional.”
With a USL season under his belt, Ambrose said he is ready to step up in a bigger role with Orlando City B.
“I’m ready to be one of the leaders, to help my teammates and play well,” Ambrose said. “Individually, I’m going to keep working as hard as I can and keep learning. Collectively, I hope to help the new guys that come in. Last year I was a rookie, and I’m ready to step into any role the team needs from me.”
Ambrose earned some valuable time with the Aztex this past season, playing the second-most minutes (2,236) on the club and starting in 25 of 26 games. It was a season of ups and downs for the ninth-place Aztex, who were forced to play outside of House Park as weather forced the organization to search for a new venue. Nevertheless, competing in the competitive Western Conference for a young and new USL side was invaluable.
“This past season was a great learning experience,” Ambrose said. “It was obviously very tough with some of the challenges in Austin, from the stadium to just being an expansion team. There were a lot of challenges, but our team was very close, and the coaching staff kept us focused.”
As one door is temporarily closed, a new one quickly opened for Ambrose. Between OCB’s connection with the Major League Soccer club and the strong tie-ins with Orlando City SC Head Coach Adrian Heath, Ambrose said the path to progress further up the ladder is there for the taking.
“It’s huge,” Ambrose said of the USL and MLS connection. “I want to play with the first team of course. Being in Orlando, Adrian watches every day and gives us a huge opportunity to one day be on the first team.
“Anthony played for Adrian for a number of years, so their style of play is exactly the same,” Ambrose said. “They replicate the first team as far as the coaching ideals and tactics.”
Ambrose was thrown into the mix right away as he was invited to the first team to train and compete with the club during its mid-November trip to Brazil. There, Ambrose earned some second-half minutes during Orlando City SC’s 1-0 loss to Brazilian Serie A’s Flamengo at famed Maracanã Stadium.
“It was an incredible trip and just an amazing experience to play against Flamengo,” Ambrose said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wasn’t sure I was going to play. I was warming up and ready, and then they called me. I was excited. A little nervous, but more excited to go in.”
The picture of Ambrose’s future will be clearer in the months to come, and taking away this type of first-team experience will only help as he has his sights on the 2016 USL season and beyond with Orlando City.
“The Orlando City first team is so close, and it was fun to get to know all the guys,” Ambrose said. “I’m used to these trips, but this was different. I got to learn from them, play with them every day in a different culture. It was first-class.”