Florida sun set to rise on new challenge as Orlando aim high

Former Middlesbrough player Seb Hines, left, is now with debuting MLS outfit Orlando City (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Former Middlesbrough player Seb Hines, left, is now with debuting MLS outfit Orlando City (Picture: Tony Johnson).
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BACK in August, it is unlikely Seb Hines and Martin Paterson envisaged they would be swapping dressing-room chat with legendary Brazilian Kaka any time soon.

They were embarking on Championship campaigns with Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town respectively with a fair bit to prove.

Thoughts of plying their trade in the Florida sun with one of football’s pin-up boys would have been a serious flight of fancy.

The ‘have-boots-will-travel’ world of football is such that both now find themselves at the start of a new adventure in the land of opportunity with Major League Soccer franchise Orlando City.

All eyes will be on Orlando on Sunday in their debut MLS game at the Citrus Bowl with a sell-out crowd of over 60,000 expected for the clash against fellow newcomers New York City, whose line-up includes Spanish World Cup winner David Villa.

Wetherby-born Hines, 26, out of favour at Boro this season and farmed out on loan to Coventry last autumn, could well be marking Villa, with ex-Bradford City goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts seeking to thwart him.

A hamstring injury prevents Paterson from being involved for Orlando, managed by one-time Sheffield United boss Adrian Heath.

Former Stoke City winger Brek Shea, who spent a loan spell at Barnsley last term, is also at City.

But the stellar name on the roster is unquestionably former Ballon d’Or winner Kaka. Or ‘Ricky’ to his new team-mates.

Officials at Orlando are making no secret that their ambition is to reach the play-offs in their inaugural season, something only two sides – Chicago in 1998 and Seattle in 2009 – have achieved previously.

While not a native of the USA, he has the go-getting nature that is synonymous with millions of Americans. Let’s shoot for the moon and enjoy ourselves in the process.

Small wonder a rising number of British players seeking a new challenge are being enticed into trying to claim their own piece of the American dream.

Heath said: “More good players want to come here, and earlier than ever.

“I have emails every day talking about players whose contracts are not even up for 18 months – these are top players in the Premier League – and I think that’s the test of how far the league in America has come.”

On Sunday’s game, he added: “I’m pretty sure we will get an amazing buzz running out in front of 60,000 people. It should be an incredible feeling.

“We are not naïve enough to think we will get 60,000 every week, but it shows how far the game has come over here. I think we are really at the tipping point where the game is going to explode in this country.”

For Hines, whose father was born in America, it has already been a fruitful year, with the birth of his fourth child.

Hines’s firm hope now is that he can earn a longer-term deal after initially joining on loan, along with Paterson.

Being part of the ride as the MLS seeks to compete with girdiron, basketball, baseball and ice hockey is something that excites Hines, along with the quality of life that Florida offers his family, currently still in the UK.

Hines said: “It’s a change for me and my family, but it’s a good change.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do in my career. I am hoping that (my family) can come out as soon as possible. They can come down and enjoy life in Orlando because I’ve been telling them how amazing it is.”