LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Yordany “Gio” Alvarez will never play a professional soccer game again, but he’ll always remain in the hearts of Orlando City Soccer Club coaches, teammates and fans as the Lions enter the final week of the USL PRO regular season.
Alvarez’s journey back to Major League Soccer officially came to a premature end last week when the club announced the unexpected retirement of the 29-year old midfielder because of an “undisclosed medical condition.” He suffered a career-ending injury in a home match on June 7.
Alvarez will remain with the club to work with its youth academy. He will be recognized in a special ceremony during Orlando City’s final regular-season game on Saturday against Richmond.
“Needless to say, he’s been one of my favorite players since I’ve been in the states,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said Sunday. “I remember the first time I saw him, we were in Ventura at a little combine over there. It was like he had a light on his head, he was that much better than everybody else. Your eyes kept getting attracted to him. So for me to see him move on from here and go on to the MLS, I was delighted, but I was even more delighted to get him back.
“It’s devastating news for the kid because he loves playing football so much, but we’ll all rally around now and hopefully we can get the next stage of his life and his career going.”
The news of the club’s second MLS signee was still fresh in the minds of many Sunday when the Lions took the field at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where they kept a hold of the top spot in the USL PRO table with a 7-0 thrashing of Dayton.
Kevin Molino, the club’s first MLS-signee for 2015 and league-leader in goals scored this year, dedicated his three-goal performance to his former teammate. Molino and Alvarez played together in Orlando in 2011 when the Lions won a USP PRO championship in their debut season.
“First and foremost, coming into the game with sad news of Yordany, to come out to play today was for him,” Molino said afterwards. “He’s a great guy, a great player, and to see him retire in such manner and such way, I just want to dedicate my three goals to him.”
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Molino said the team will play out the season in honor of Alvarez.
“He’s someone we love, a fun guy, and one of my good friends here over the past couple years,” Molino said. “To see the way he has to retire is heartbreaking. We just would like to win the league and continue showing him love and support along the way.”
Alvarez came under the wings of Heath’s guidance shortly after defecting from Cuba while with the country's Under-23 national team for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa, Florida in 2008. He was named most valuable player in USL PRO in 2011 before moving on to Real Salt Lake.