SANFORD, Fla. – It was a phone call from Orlando City’s new executive vice president Luiz Muzzi that convinced Sebastian Mendez to join the Lions ahead of the 2019 season from Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle.

The 21-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder said he had options to go play elsewhere, but it was Muzzi’s persistence and insistence that led him to come play in Major League Soccer.

“There were options to go elsewhere, but Orlando was the most interested in me,” Mendez told before Thursday’s training session.

“Luiz Muzzi was very cordial in contacting me letting me know that he wanted me here, James [O’Connor] also played a big part in getting me here. So obviously, when deciding where to go, you go to the place that wants you – that’s most interested,” he said.

Mendez didn’t divulge which clubs were interested in signing him, saying it doesn’t matter anymore, but his friendship with compatriot Carlos Gruezo, who plays at FC Dallas, also influenced his decision to come play in the United States.

“We have a good friendship, we play together at the national team,” said Mendez. “Cristian Penilla and Romario Ibarra, my other compatriots, are here as well. This league is growing a lot, so the idea to come to a league and continue competing and grow as a person brought me here.”

With a wave of South American players coming to play in MLS, Ecuador national team coach Hernan Dario Gomez encouraged Mendez to make the move abroad.

“I expressed to him my intentions of coming here and encouraged me to go,” he said. “He told me it’s time for a new stage of my career to make the most out of it.”