Promising Orlando Striker Santiago Patino talks College, MLS, and a Future in International Soccer

USA Today Sports Images

USA Today Sports Images

Recently, OneGoal had the opportunity to interview the third pick from the 2019 MLS Superdraft, Santiago Patiño. Santiago, who goes by Santi, dominated college soccer for Florida International University before joining Orlando City SC. His strength, finishing, and speed make him an exciting prospect in the MLS.

In American sports, the NCAA-to-professional route is standard. For soccer players, getting integrated into challenging leagues as young as possible is essential for a fast-tracked development. Nations that are known for churning out top young talent (such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands) commonly bypass amateur college or university leagues, instead placing talented young players on competitive professional teams.

In the States, however, many great USMNT players played college soccer prior to making the move to the MLS. Several American national team players (including the all-time leading goal scorer, Clint Dempsey) were heroes for universities before reaching their professional careers. Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Heath Pearce, among others, all played in college. Even in in Berhalter’s latest USMNT rosters, Zack Steffen (Maryland), DeAndre Yedlin (Akron), Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke), Aaron Long (UC Riverside) and Wil Trapp (Akron), all played collegiate minutes before MLS.

While college soccer might not always be the best place to find top American talent, there are instances where we strike gold with a special player - and Santiago Patiño could be one of those examples.

Patiño, a dual citizen of the United States and Colombia, was the 3rd draft pick in this year’s MLS superdraft. A physically strong, technically gifted, and unselfish striker, we think Patiño has what it takes to succeed in the MLS. Just a few games in to his MLS career, he’s already begun to deliver. Against Montreal, Patiño celebrated his debut by clinching an assist after only 17 minutes on the pitch. He followed up with an all around solid performance in his first start against the Red Bulls.

Throughout our conversation with Santi, he showed that without a doubt, he has the right attitude and mentality to make his mark for Orlando this season.

OneGoal: Santi, thanks for joining us today. Congrats on your recent performance in the MLS with Orlando.

Santiago Patiño: No problem, good to talk again.

OneGoal: Let's talk about how you got to Orlando first. You were at Florida International University (FIU) before this - what led you there?

Santiago Patiño: I moved to Orlando when I was 11. I was playing club soccer and then I had the opportunity to try out and play with Orlando's Lions Academy for a little bit. After that, I started speaking with FIU and committed to them very early on.

When I got to FIU, the hardest part was learning how everything works in college. But with some time and just getting to know myself/the team, I started making a difference. I had a really good college career and then the MLS draft came - luckily, Orlando picked me!

OneGoal: You obviously did extremely well in college. When was the first time you were approached by a scout?

Santiago Patiño: Halfway through my junior year, a lot of people reached out because I was doing well. Someone mentioned me going into Generation Adidas, but that did not go through. So I stayed at FIU my senior year. Then, it was in my own hands. I thought, if I do a good job, I can go pro, right? I can have something. If I blow it, then nothing is going to happen.

OneGoal: When did you know you could become a pro soccer player?

Credit - Santiago Patino Twitter (@SPatino_7)

Credit - Santiago Patino Twitter (@SPatino_7)

Santiago Patiño: I wanted to be a professional soccer player my whole life. I've been lucky enough that my family has been supportive because I come from a soccer family. It's been in my life since I was born. My dad played professional soccer for 14 years in Colombia. Every day and every week and I would go to the games and I saw him train and I saw him prepare.

So it's something that I always wanted to do. I think, personally, when you start seeing good results, that's when you say, “If I put even more time to this and I keep working hard, then I can pro."

OneGoal: We’ve seen more young players go straight from youth academies to professional. What do you think about that trend?

Santiago Patiño: From being in that process, I'm grateful that I was I was part of a college team and got that experience. But personally, if you see other cities in the world, kids from 12-13 years old train 5-6 times a week year-round. In college, you play for 3 and a half months and then the other 8 months you have to train and play friendly games. Then you can go play with a different team that’s not your [college] team in the NSPL. So I think that part is very negative for development.

I hope they can change in the future, to benefit the college players and also benefit the country because they'll develop more players. But I don't regret college soccer because I learned a lot from it. That's why I’m the player I am now - but I do think that's why we remain a little bit behind other countries.

But youth academies now are more competitive and organized and there are a lot more than when I came to the U.S. - that’s a good thing! The more you can train from a young age, the better you're gonna to get and the more you are gonna develop.

OneGoal: Can you talk about the actual draft process? Did you know Orlando was going to pick you?

Santiago Patiño: People already know who you are when you come into the combine. So I knew I had to just keep doing what I’ve been doing: playing simple and working hard. If I did that, I knew something would happen and that's what I did.

I talked to my agent and to several people that told me that a lot of teams liked what they saw. I was confident that someone was going to pick me and I knew Orlando was a big possibility because I'm from Orlando. I was in the academy but it's also the third pick, you know, it's a big pick. Then they went for me and I’m very glad that they did!

OneGoal: Talk a bit about where you are now and the transition. How does the level of play in college compare to what you are now seeing in the MLS?

Santiago Patiño: I think for sure there's a gap. You feel it more in the beginning just because you are in a new group. It's a new level, the expectation is higher, and you don't have experience. With time and the right attitude, you start gaining more confidence and you start being yourself and then you start seeing positive results. It's not easy that’s for sure.

It's a lot of mental things, you know, because you go there and everybody in training expects you to be as good as them but you don’t have any professional minutes. I began playing harder and then I started feeling comfortable.

I think a lot of people struggle to get comfortable. You have to say to yourself “I'm technically good enough and I’m strong enough, I'm fast enough.”

It’s just the mentality that a lot of people struggle with.

OneGoal: Which players do you interact with the most at Orlando? Do you have any mentors or good relationships with older players?

Santiago Patiño: Yeah, we have a really close team. We have a really good locker room and all the players who are older always try to help the young ones.

So Kamal Miller, Benji Michel and I are the young ones. Overall, this is our first year playing pro. Some others are younger, but they already have been in the pro-level.

The older players that help out are Lamine Sane, Dom Dwyer, Nani and Cristian Higuita. They are positive and help if you do anything wrong.

But the only way you're going to learn is by making mistakes. It's really hard to learn when people say something like ‘‘don't play through the middle.” Until you do and you lose the ball and then you get scored on, until then, you won't really learn.

OneGoal: Where do you think this Orlando team can go this season? Any specific goals you have laid out for yourself and for the team?

Santiago Patiño: I know we'll have a great season. I know we’ll turn this around and this year we will make the playoffs.

OneGoal: Any projections on how many goals you’ll score this season? Have you set a personal goal?

Santiago Patiño: I always set goals for myself, but I keep most of them private. Personally, my main goal, one that I can tell you is that, I want to get as much minutes as I can this season because it will be really important for me at this stage in my career.

OneGoal: Which player inspired you the most growing up? Any player that you’d want to model your play style after?

Santiago Patiño: Whenever I’m watching a game, I'm always paying more attention to a forward because I want to see how they move and what they do. Forwards that I like a lot are Cavani, Ibrahimovic, Miguel Borja, he’s a Colombian guy and [Cristián] Zapata, he’s also Colombian. Also, Lucas Pratto from River Plate.

OneGoal: What’s your favorite type of goal to score?

Santiago Patiño: My first instinct is getting the ball, turning, and finishing. So turn and shoot. That's my typical move.

OneGoal: Last question: you are a dual citizen, so you could technically one day play for Colombia or the US if Berhalter called you up. Any idea who you would pick?

Santiago Patiño: I have been asked that question a lot. And personally, if I was given the opportunity, I would really appreciate interest from either team.