Orlando City SC fans have seen this story before – a striker, drafted out of college soccer, scoring goals for fun during his rookie season.
Now, in 2023, the new face of the SuperDraft-to-Orlando pipeline is Duncan McGuire. He has 10 goals across all competitions in just over 1,000 minutes played, going from the No. 6 overall selection to the Lions’ leading scorer on a team featuring three Designated Players in attack.
It begs the question: How does Orlando keep doing this? Head coach Oscar Pareja offered some perspective on McGuire's path to MLS from Creighton University, where he led the nation in scoring in 2022 (23 goals in 24 games) while winning Big East Offensive Player of the Year and MAC Hermann Trophy honors.
“Duncan is good proof of the talent that America has – not just in the academy system, which is already a successful process, but also in college [players] who are coming through the draft who still put talent in the league,” said Pareja.
“Duncan's maturity and professionalism is a good testimony to it. We're happy with him. I think he is growing. He understands that he has a long way to go still. What he has achieved so far is a good first step, but this is about being consistent. But Duncan has the personality to absorb that.”
Path less traveled
Pareja spoke just before one of Orlando’s biggest games of the year, a Florida Derby showdown Wednesday evening at Inter Miami CF to decide who makes the Leagues Cup Round of 16 (8 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). And odds are McGuire will play an important role, having scored a stunning header in their group stage-clinching win over Liga MX’s Santos Laguna.
McGuire, a late bloomer compared to most of his age-comparison peers in a global soccer context, reflected on his path from Nebraska, hardly a hotbed for the sport, to his country’s club top flight.
“I knew college isn't the preferred way to get to the pros,” McGuire, 22, told MLSsoccer.com. “There's a lot of kids coming from their academy, that's what I would say is the more popular route. But I just kept an open mind in my first season [with Orlando]. I wasn't expecting too much, we have a bunch of quality players.
“I wasn't thinking it was going to be some huge season. I was obviously hoping I'd get my chance, maybe score a goal or two, play in some games. But my teammates did a good job at helping me transition from the college game, teaching me the ropes about strategy, tactics. They worked with me from day one, helping me out and helped me feel like one of the guys from day one, so that was helpful on their part.
“And getting a start early in the season and scoring a goal, that was the confidence boost that I needed and letting me know that I can do it at this level. I think it's been a pretty successful year so far, but hopefully I've got a few more goals in me.”
Year 1 growth
That success has often forced Pareja to make a decision, starting McGuire or going with Ercan Kara, a DP alongside Facundo Torres and Martín Ojeda. At least production-wise, it’s McGuire who’s won out more often than not.
In carrying his skill set to the next level, McGuire provided a window into how a striker’s mind works.
“I definitely like to be a nuisance,” he said. “I always like to be making runs to make defenders constantly keep their head on a swivel and busy, whether that's I'll get in behind them or take their attention away from teammates. Just always being as annoying as possible is something that I've always done throughout my years in high school, college and now here.
“I just try to make it as difficult for the other team as possible when they have the ball or if we're attacking just constantly making runs in behind, so they're constantly thinking of me and maybe not my teammates in a better spot.”
While learning along the way, McGuire keeps his aspirations high – both at the club level and with aiming for a US men’s national team breakthrough one day.
“Eventually I do want to go to Europe and play there and make myself a name over there,” said McGuire. “But I definitely am happy here right now and I'm enjoying myself in Orlando. It's a quality MLS team and I'm glad I ended up here. It's a bunch of great guys here.
“And obviously the men's national team, I would love to be a part of that. That's probably the one team I could name that I really want to play for is the USA team because you watch all the World Cups, all these Gold Cups, Concacaf games, and you really want to be a part of it.”
For now, McGuire hopes to keep grinding and make another statement at DRV PNK Stadium when it’s a win-or-go-home scenario against the club’s biggest rival. Sharing the field with the legendary Lionel Messi will only be a bonus.
“No, not many kids growing up think they're going to be on the field [with Messi],” said McGuire. “They obviously think it would be cool and they'd do it, but you're never like it's going to happen.
“So now that it's happening it is pretty crazy to think about but … it's just another game against a team with 11 guys. So you've got to kind of put that aside that you've watched him and seen all his YouTube videos as a kid.”
As McGuire’s comments indicate, getting a win is priority No. 1 as his profile continues to grow.
“It being Miami it makes it a little bit more exciting, a little bit more meat on the bone,” said McGuire. “It makes it a bit more meaningful winning these rivalry games. “