ORLANDO – The cry of “Winter is coming!” has rang out among Orlando City SC fans on a number of occasions in the past few weeks.
And on Sunday, Winter arrived.
They’re hoping it’s just what they need heading into Saturday’s road meeting with fellow playoff outsiders Chicago Fire (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
“Yes, it felt very important for me to score,” the Swiss attacker said in clear English while occasionally consulting a language app for the right word in German. “It was a very” – pause – “liberating moment for me to be able to show everyone what I can do.”
The 29-year-old midfielder has suffered a tough introduction to MLS life since arriving from Switzerland’s Luzern in early August, having to come to grips with a new language as well as new teammates – enduring something of a baptism of fire on the field.
In both of his first two starts, he ended up playing right back after Tyler Turner and then Rafael Ramos were sent off in successive games. He then racked up two yellow cards in that second outing, at Toronto FC, and was himself dismissed for the first time in his 11-year career.
After a one-game suspension, he returned in Orlando’s 3-0 away loss to New England, before he finally ended up on the winning side for the first time in purple last weekend against Kansas City – in no small part due to his goals.
“It was a tough start for me to come here and to play two times at right back and then get the first red card of my career,” he said. “So I definitely felt I had something to prove.”
Despite the miserable August, Winter is still bullish about his fledgling MLS career, and his rapidly-developing language skills are helping to make him feel more comfortable in an all-new environment.
“There is only one language in football, it is 11-v-11, and everybody wants to win,” he said. “Tactics are the same everywhere you go. But, for speaking with my teammates, it is better to know the language more. It is getting better from day to day, and I learn more when I can speak with more players.
“It is also better for me because I feel more at home now, more part of the [Orlando] family. This is very important for a player. Moving from [speaking] German to English is coming along well, but I can still get better.”
Winter’s goal double also garnered its fair share of headlines back in Switzerland, and he and fellow countryman Tranquillo Barnetta, a recent signing of the Philadelphia Union, are big story material in the Swiss media as MLS gains increasing prominence.
“European people hear more and more about MLS,” Winter said. “And in Switzerland now they talk a lot about me and Tranquillo. Everyone knows about us here, and that is great for MLS. It makes it more interesting for other European players, too, and more … attractive as a place to play.
“People from back home always ask me what is the difference with MLS, is it better than in Switzerland and do I like the life here? I tell them I am enjoying it very much, it is a very physical league, players are stronger and the games are hard, but you can’t say it is better or worse because it is just different.”
Winter’s open and honest appraisal of the first six weeks of his Orlando life will definitely resonate well both within and beyond the league, with more European players arriving in every transfer window and the player pool getting stronger year by year.
He can also see himself playing here for a good few years to come.
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“I would like to see more of this new experience and the new challenge,” he added. “I would like to help Orlando develop further, and I would definitely like to help them to the top. After Sunday, this is what I expected of myself, and that is why the start was so difficult for me. Now I feel I have more … self-confidence.”
Winter is also enamored of the team’s raucous home support, with fans at their Citrus Bowl stadium maintaining an all-out din on game days that he has heard in only a handful of venues in Europe.
“I like it a lot,” he said.” It makes you feel stronger – it is like being a gladiator in the arena! That’s why I was so happy for the supporters on Sunday because they come every game, and they hadn’t seen a win for two or three home games. Now we can give them something back because they support us so well.”
Winter will get the chance to continue his rediscovered goal prowess against the Fire. With Kaka again missing for the Lions, he will likely find more forward opportunities in the midfield.