Orlando City homegrown Michael Halliday grows into rookie season

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Throughout the 2021 season, injuries at outside back have come with a silver lining for Orlando City — an opportunity to develop homegrown defender Michael Halliday.

The homegrown outside back has become a key player for the Lions this season, filling in for João Moutinho in critical matches such as last week’s rivalry game against Inter Miami.

After his third appearance for the Lions, Halliday feels he fits into his hometown team.

“It’s just always felt like the right place for me,” Halliday said.

Halliday first landed on the Lions’ radar when he was 12. His former club team, FC America, faced off against an Orlando City youth side.

The game didn’t go particularly well — as far as Halliday can remember, his club team lost 8-1. But the defender stood out to the Lions coach, and he extended an offer for a tryout.

“The first tryout I went to, I was so nervous because the team was so much better than the team I was on before,” Halliday said. “I’ll always remember that day.”

Since then, it’s been a gradual process for Halliday to progress into the ranks of the Lions’ first team.

The defender said there wasn’t ever a specific moment when he realized a professional career was in his future; instead, he felt supported to chase his dream since he was 12.

So when he was signed to a first-team contract last July, it didn’t come as a surprise; just a natural next step.

Still, certain moments throw the young defender’s growth into stark perspective.

Halliday spent last Friday night locking down Inter Miami winger Brek Shea, a former Orlando City player. The rookie has a picture from years before of himself as a young teenager, looking up to Shea at a Lions youth event.

“It’s really cool just to think about how I used to envy him,” Halliday said. “Now I’m here in the same place playing against him.”

Halliday built the foundation for his professional career while still completing high school, graduating in the spring with a 4.2 GPA.

The defender said he didn’t have as much time for a typical childhood. Last year, he spent mornings at Orlando City training, then logged several hours watching film and receiving recovery treatment. He returned home by 2 p.m., where he’d spend the rest of the afternoon taking classes online through Florida Virtual School.

Halliday said this consistent routine helped his success both in school and on the pitch.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do, but you just got to be smart, and you got to be a good kid,” Halliday said. “You obviously can’t be like a crazy kid. I got it done, and I’m glad I did.”

This has been a year of growth for Halliday. The rookie turned 18 in January; five months later, he graduated high school. His professional debut came at the end of his graduation week, cementing a hectic six months of fully growing into his status as a regular part of Orlando City — both its present and its future.

In June, Halliday underwent another milestone — filling his left upper arm with a tattoo depicting a panther.

The tattoo took four hours in total, covering the skin from the top of his shoulder to just above his elbow. By the end, Halliday said, the process was a bit painful.

It wasn’t his first tattoo — the defender also sports an owl on his right upper thigh — but this one carried a special legacy. The men in the Halliday family have a tradition of getting this same tattoo. For Halliday, the newly inked addition reflected yet another small step forward.

For coach Oscar Pareja, this change in Halliday has been visible on and off the pitch. The coach said he’s noticed the defender become more centered and confident in himself, taking risks and making quicker decisions during play.

Before his first start, Halliday was young and untested. After only three games, he’s quickly becoming a player who the Lions can count on.

“It’s incredible how much they develop when they go and compete in the first division, and they start adding matches and timing,” Pareja said. “With Mikey, it’s so good for us seeing the youngsters who have minutes and are fighting for the position. I think he understands better what the competition is now. ... To see him play ... is a great success for the club and for Orlando.”

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

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