BRADENTON, Fla. – Rey Ortiz doesn’t need much time to make an impression.
Eleven seconds into FC Cincinnati’s preseason opener, his curling back-post shot forced a sprawling save from the Phoenix Rising goalkeeper that would’ve given FCC an early lead. By halftime, he already had two assists.
Drafted 29th in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, Ortiz was invited to join Cincinnati for its 19-day trip to Tucson. There were no promises beyond a fair chance to prove himself. When the trip ended, he was offered another 12 days with the team in Florida. Maybe a contract would come after that.
So when Hunter Freeman, director of scouting and player personnel, walked up to Ortiz while was sitting with Jürgen Locadia and said he needed to chat with the 22-year-old, Ortiz knew his fate probably rested on that conversation.
“I was nervous but knew I was here for a reason,” Ortiz said.
The chat was short and included GM Gerard Nijkamp. The trio talked and Nijkamp told the player that he was impressed with Ortiz on and off the field. The fact that he had integrated well into the team was even better.
On Friday, FCC announced that the winger would be the team’s newest signing – an addition who had been with the club all along but had never been fully recognized.
Just a week ago, Ortiz was living in a self-described “scary time” when he didn’t know if he’d get a contract, but saw other teams filling their rosters with other players. If it wasn’t going to work with FC Cincinnati, would it somewhere else?
Now he knows that doesn’t matter anymore
Perhaps that’s why he seemed so at ease Thursday night – the night before his signing announcement – when he sat near a hotel pool and calmly peeled his post-dinner orange.
“I’ve reflected a lot and I spoke with my guardians and it’s a joyful moment for myself and for my family,” Ortiz said. “I’ve actually had time to sit back, especially in these long days when we have a couple hours off at a time to look at what’s around me.”
What’s around Ortiz is a place where he can flourish.
Born in Mexico, he came to the U.S. at 2 years old. Basically, from that point on, he’s moved around and worked for the best opportunities. As a teenager, that meant playing in the LA Galaxy youth academy – when he made a USL debut in 2015 – and later with the Portland Timbers Under-23s
In college, he excelled at the University of Portland and collected 14 goals and 26 assists for the Pilots in four seasons. Named to the 2019 All-West Coast Conference First Team, he entered the 2020 MLS SuperDraft hoping to continue his career as a professional.
When the draft came around, Ortiz was with his aunt, uncle and other family members as he watched other players get selected ahead of him.
“Ortiz was one of the more talented wingers in the draft, but is a Mexican international (despite living in USA since he was 2),”soccer reporter Ives Galarcep tweeted. “If he had American citizenship he could’ve been a 1st-round value.”
Once the first round concluded, Ortiz walked into the kitchen for space and to breathe. He thought he had 15 minutes before the second round started.
But then group messages started blowing up. A friend, who had already been drafted, called to say congrats on getting picked, too. Ortiz didn’t understand. When he ran into the other room, he saw his name on the TV screen:
No. 29, Rey Ortiz, FC Cincinnati
“It was amazing,” he said looking back. “I called my college coach right away because he’s been helping me and guiding me for a very long time and all four years of college. He’s been teaching me all these valuable lessons, like, ‘Keep working hard and waiting for your moment. Your moment will eventually come. So, when it comes, just be ready for it.’”
Consider this Ortiz’s moment.
He said he writes in his journal daily about his goals and ambitions. One goal was to make the team; the next is to score in his debut. (He almost did seconds into his preseason one.)
On the day he was drafted, he received his college diploma in the mail and had plans with his family to visit his mom’s grave the next day. Instead, he was on a flight to Orlando for the MLS Rookie Symposium and the beginning of a long, stressful and tiring preseason.
That preseason is ending now, and his professional career is beginning.
When FC Cincinnati play KR Reykjavík on Friday, there’s a good chance the winger earns minutes and shows the creativity and quality that earned him an MLS contract.
What unfolds next is unwritten. Maybe Ortiz has an outline jotted in his journal, but his play will dictate his future.
“As cliché as it sounds, hard work does pay off,” he said. “Whatever you do in the dark always seems to shine out and people always notice it somehow, some way. Whatever it is in life, nothing’s impossible. If you want to do something, just go out and work for it.”