Orlando City’s Benji Michel, Andrés Perea named to U.S. Olympic qualifying roster

Julia Poe, Orlando Sentinel
·4 min read

Orlando City’s Andrés Perea and Benji Michel earned places on the final United States men’s national team roster for Olympic qualifiers.

The two players will travel to Guadalajara, Mexico for the tournament to play three qualifying matches. The Americans’ tournament play starts March 18 against Costa Rica, followed by the Dominican Republic March 21 and Mexico March 24.

Michel and Perea join an American team looking to qualify for its first Olympics since 2008.

Both players are native Floridians — Perea was born in Tampa before moving to Colombia as a young boy, while Michel was born and raised in Orlando.

The duo’s selection for the Olympic qualifiers marks the continued achievement of a specific goal for Lions coach Oscar Pareja: helping players make their national team rosters. More specifically, Pareja hopes to create a culture in Orlando that positions Lions to break onto the U.S. men’s national team.

After entering 2020 relatively off the radar of the Americans, Pareja sees both players’ journeys as a success for club and country.

“It is wonderful to see their achievements,” Pareja said. “This last year, we have tried to produce players for the national team. ... It makes us very proud. They’re representing very well the club. They’re young. And that’s the result of what they achieved last year and in prior years as well.”

Lions build in Bradenton

After arriving at IMG Academy in Bradenton on Sunday for preseason training camp, Pareja said the team was high-spirited and focused preparing for the 2021 season.

The Lions are still awaiting the arrival of two players to round out the group — new attacking additions Pato and Silvester van der Water.

Pareja said both players have started their seven-day quarantine process, bringing them into the final step of their onboarding process.

“It’s about a week or two until we can have them ready,” Pareja said.

Pato signed Feb. 13 and van der Water signed a little over a week later on Feb. 23. Immigration has been slowed for all teams during the pandemic, and their arrival to the club within the week means the whole process took a little over a month in total.

The Lions approach the season with one designated player slot still open, with captain Nani and dynamic playmaker Mauricio Pereyra filling the other two spaces on the roster.

Pareja said there aren’t immediate plans to fill that position. The Lions brought in only four players during the offseason — one of which, Jonathan Suárez, was released before camp following an arrest — and Pareja voiced confidence in the roster currently assembled for the season.

“Sometimes we all get excited about just building the team at once and putting the roster together early so we can get results immediately,” Pareja said. “It’s a long year. ... I want to wait to see if we need another DP, we can use it wisely.”

The next signing for the Lions could come out of a pool of five young talents brought along to training camp.

Orlando City signed a slew of homegrown talents and academy products since Pareja first joined the club. Additions like David Loera and Jordan Bender made their debuts in 2020.

Pareja noted the most important transition has been teaching young players how to operate as professional athletes. The youngest of the group, Quembol Guadalupe, is only 16 years old and previously played for the Lions’ U-17 squad.

From morning routines to post-workout treatment, he’s watched the younger players studiously absorbed the habits and patterns of their teammates.

“I know that collection of experiences will mature those boys and they can feel the game differently when they come out from this camp,” Pareja said.

Ruan departs camp for mother’s funeral

Defender Ruan left camp earlier this week to attend the funeral of his mother M 1/4 u00f4nica. The defender learned of her passing Tuesday morning and left shortly thereafter for Brazil.

Orlando City fans shared an outpouring of sympathy on social media for the defender, who has been a fan favorite since joining the club in 2019.

Ruan will need to repeat his quarantine period upon his return to the U.S. before he will be able to rejoin his teammates in training.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.