On Wednesday night, Orlando City SC midfielder Tony Rocha’s career will come full circle.
The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round match will see Rocha and Orlando City visiting the NPSL’s Miami United FC. Rocha is an alumnus of Tulsa Athletic and the league’s Heartland Conference. He played for the club in 2014. Rocha won’t be taking the representatives of his former league lightly.
“For me, I’ll prepare like I do for any other game,” Rocha said. “They’re another opponent that if we give them any opportunity to beat us, they will. So we can’t take them lightly and we have to stay concentrated and focused just like they’re any other team.”
Rocha expects the match to be challenging. Among the reasons he cites, he and his teammates don’t know what to expect in terms of atmosphere at Ted Hendricks Stadium in Miami-Dade County. Each year, the U.S. Open Cup’s Fourth Round takes MLS clubs out of their element. Rocha is excited to kick off USOC play.
In terms of Rocha’s beginnings, the often midfielder and occasional defender was born in Spring, Texas. Klein Oak High School boasted a 45-13-10 record in Rocha’s time before he enrolled in college at Tulsa University. In 73 starts for the Golden Hurricane, Rocha tallied seven goals and 10 assists and was named to American Athletic Conference All-Tournament team his senior year.
It was at Tulsa that Rocha came into his own. This season at Orlando City SC, the midfielder has been called upon to make a change and fill in at center back. Luckily, he had experience to draw from.
“I’m very grateful that I was able to go to a school that challenged me on the field,” Rocha said. “I remember when I got moved back to defense my sophomore year, I didn’t like it one bit. But looking back on it, I’m grateful that I was able to be coachable and able to learn a new position because it helped me at this level.”
The NPSL’s Tulsa Athletic was where Rocha sharpened his skills in conditioning while hungry for minutes in the offseason.
“Being able to play in Tulsa and take classes over the summer helped me a lot just because I was able to play games,” Rocha said. “I was playing with a couple players from my college team and being able to stay in that routine with training every day and games on the weekends helped me to stay in shape going into the college season.”
When asked about his fondest memory with Tulsa Athletic, Rocha cited his first-ever match with the club. The team traveled to Mexico for a friendly. It was an experience and an environment that left an impression on the South Texas native. However, Rocha may have been being modest in terms of his fondest moments with Tulsa Athletic, according to his former University of Tulsa teammate and Tulsa Athletic General Manager Matt Boullt.
“During his time at the Athletics, Tony scored some very important goals – most notably in the 2014 South Region Semifinals against Upward Stars when he scored the game-winner in overtime off a free kick,” Boullt said.
After playing heavy minutes in Orlando City’s recent matches, the 24-year-old Rocha knows he has a lot of room to improve. He’s been reviewing a lot of tape. He takes advantage of the veteran presence in the locker room he now resides in. Despite attaining his dream of becoming an MLS player, he hasn’t taken a moment to reflect. He doesn’t plan to, either.
“I think maybe if I’m a starter every game and then making it to the national team and being with them on a regular basis, then that’s when I could reflect and be like, ‘maybe I did really make it,’” Rocha said. “But, up until that point, I don’t really think about that. I don’t want to take that for granted.”
The dismount that Rocha chose after outlining his aspirations was an interesting one.
“Definitely. I have a lot of goals in front of me.”
Contributor: Jeff Helfrich/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo and Orlando City SC