ORLANDO, Fla. — When it comes to building for the future, Orlando City SC laid down a substantial piece to the foundation this week with the announcement of a new, long-term contract for towering center back Jose Aja.
The 6-foot-4 Uruguayan initially joined the Lions on loan from Club Nacional in Montevideo in July, but his four-year deal now clears the way for him to become one of the leaders that head coach Jason Kreis has talked about building around.
And Aja insisted it was the team’s “important objectives” that persuaded him that his future lies in Central Florida.
“The fact Orlando wants to retain me for more years is exciting and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said, via an interpreter. “Personally, I went on loan with the objective of staying in Orlando longer, and luckily I accomplished that goal.
“I am pleased with the team’s plan. Before leaving for the offseason, I met with the coach, the president and the general manager and they mentioned their ideas for the upcoming season of gathering a very talented side and fighting for the title, and that is what caught my attention the most. The team is aiming for important objectives and that is what I want. I’m very committed to this project and looking forward to the start of the new season.”
The 23-year-old made nine starts in 10 games after joining the Lions, with the team going 4-3-3 in that spell and looking stronger in the back with every game that he started. With Kreis admitting he is anxious to sign another experienced center back, Aja figures to be the other key component at the heart of defense next year after making his mark in 2016.
“I think my half-season with the team was a good one in which I had to quickly integrate myself to the squad, and play the best way I could and in the most amount of games as possible,” he said. “I believe I was able to feature in a lot of games to show the coach that he could count on me.
“On the personal side, I was very happy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t accomplish our goal of making the playoffs but I think that we will leave it all on the pitch to make it next year.”
Aja’s permanent move to Orlando has definitely caught the attention of soccer observers back in his home country, and he wants to make a big impression in MLS in order to catch the eye of Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez.
“You always play to be called up to the national team,” he admitted. “That’s been my dream since I was a kid, and I believe this is an important step in that direction.
“The media in Uruguay is talking about me being with Orlando and the people are happy with that. They congratulate me and I think the news has had a positive impact in the country. I would love to one day be integrated to the national team. It’s a dream and hopefully I can have great seasons in Orlando [so as] to be looked at by the national team.”