Maikon Orellana came to a crossroads in the USL regular season opener for the Real Monarchs on March 26.
As the clock wound down on the scoreless match and Head Coach Freddy Juarez used his substitutes, Orellana’s confidence slipped minute-by-minute. In the 65th minute, Eti Tavares subbed on. In the 76th minute it was Colin Rolfe. With two forwards already going into the match, Orellana had convinced himself of something quite dire – he wasn’t going to play in this match and his future would likely be somewhere other than on the soccer field.
He was ready to leave behind the game that he had loved his whole life and had created opportunities for him to see different parts of the world that he may never see otherwise.
Reaching a pivotal life moment where he had the choice to continue against adversity or turn around and change course was nothing new for the 22-year-old forward, though.
When he was just nine years old, Orellana and his family fled his native El Salvador to escape the violence that had ravaged the streets of his home town. With his parents already in the United States, he and his younger brother – just six years old at the time – crossed the border into Guatemala and boarded a boat bound for the U.S. However, the boat was stopped by Mexican authorities and returned to Guatemala. From there, he had two choices – stay with his grandfather and go back to El Salvador or turn around and try again.
With nothing to lose, he and his brother climbed back onto the bus and drove through Mexico until he reached the border in Tijuana, where the two young boys crossed into the U.S. and rejoined his family in Provo, Utah.
“I had to grow up really fast. I was taking care of him,” Orellana said. “It was hard just for me to do it, but I had to make sure that he was safe. Your selfishness goes away. That was hard and it’s a good thing nothing happened and we got through safe.”
Like he did in 2003, Orellana had another life-altering choice ahead of him at Rio Tinto Stadium as the Monarchs met St. Louis FC. And just like he did at nine years old, with nothing left to lose he threw caution to the wind.
In the 88th minute, with the match still scoreless Orellana finally did check into the match. Two minutes later, he scored the game-winning goal, shifting not just the fate of the match, but his soccer career as well.
“I was in a dark place,” Orellana said, adding with a smile, “(Now) they’re looking up. Things are looking pretty good.”
Now, Orellana is the Monarchs’ leading scorer with three goals through three matches and on Friday night he will head back to Utah County as the Monarchs will play a home match at Utah Valley University in Orem against Arizona United.
Orellana’s indecision late in the Monarchs’ opener wasn’t just a whim. He had been dealing with a rollercoaster ride of a career that started in Provo when Real Salt Lake held a training session at BYU’s indoor facility in 2007. With Freddy Adu recently joining the team, Orellana wanted to get out and watch the MLS club practice. While watching RSL from the sideline, he started juggling an errant ball. Adu took notice and the team started crowding around the young prodigy. Not long after, he was invited to put on a juggling show in front of Rice-Eccles Stadium before RSL’s next match, entertaining fans on their way into the stadium. That was his first glimpse of MLS action and he soon was invited to try out with Real Salt Lake’s Arizona-based Academy team.
After two years under Monarchs Head Coach Freddy Juarez – then with the RSL-Arizona Academy, Orellana took his game to Denmark to play with Brondby. Injuries limited his opportunities, though, and he never made a first-team appearance in his three years in Europe. Still striving to make his mark as a soccer player, he returned to his native El Salvador to play for Alianza. There he scored three goals in 15 appearances and earned his first cap with the El Salvador National Team in 2014, but was released following the season.
“What Mikey’s always been since the Academy is that he’s all about positive vibes and family. So when he went to Denmark and El Salvador, he was far from home and injured … Now you bring him here and he’s back with family and you can see him happy again,” Monarchs Head Coach Freddy Juarez said.
His release from Alianza opened up the door for him to return to Utah to play for Real Monarchs in the USL. In his first season, he continued to struggle with injuries, scoring two goals in 21 matches. During the season, though, he discovered a side to himself that would help him through a difficult season that saw the team go just 7-13-8.
That side was based in music and he viewed the studio as his refuge – a place where he could be confident and happy no matter what life threw his way. Before long, he had recorded his first song, playing the first verse in the locker room for his teammates who caught the rhythm and were dancing to the new track before realizing it was Orellana singing over his own beats.
“That got my confidence up in another way,” he smiled.
As much as his music made him happy, it couldn’t cast a light bright enough to forget his on-field troubles. Until he scored in the Monarchs’ opener.
Now with confidence on and off the field, his career is taking off in a new direction and it is paying off for the Monarchs, who are 2-0-1 through the first three matches. The hot start comes as no surprise to Orellana who saw how the team reacted after winning five straight matches to close out the 2015 season, though it wasn’t enough to make the postseason.
“We were mad because we didn’t make the playoffs, so we were just buzzing. In practice, we were killing it – working our butts off. We came back with the same mentality. That pushed us to prove something,” he said. “Now we’re trying to make something special here and we’re all working for one another and that’s what makes it special. We all want to see the other players succeed.”
The Monarchs are still buzzing and when they play at UVU on Friday night, Orellana expects to have plenty of friends and family in the stands.
“There’s a lot of people that are going to be there from Provo,” he said. “I’m glad I ended up in a place like Utah. It’s going to be a really cool experience.”
Friday’s match kicks off at 7 p.m. from Clyde Field at Utah Valley University. For tickets, click here.