Who is Rey Ortiz?
FC Cincinnati's inaugural season highlighted many issues across the pitch. A lack of composure and depth along the defensive front, a midfield that was unable to string together combinations of passes, the ability to turn defense into attack, and an attacking line that lacked creativity and an ability to finish. Things were pretty bleak for most of the year.
Once General Manager Gerrard Njikamp was hired, the team's overhaul began to take shape. First, the defense was tended to after acquiring Maikel van der Werff at the end of the summer transfer window, Saad Abdul-Salaam in the Re-Entry draft, and Tom Pettersson via free transfer in the weeks following. The midfield got an immediate upgrade as a result of signing an MLS veteran, Haris Medunjanin, from the MLS End-of-Year Waivers. However, FCC's sputting attack was still left untouched, outside of Joe Gyau's arrival in the summer transfer window and a trade for Atlanta United promsing backup striker Brandon Vazquez. Leading up to the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, where the orange and blue had to wait until the third pick in the 2nd round to continue the new look in attack for the 2020 season.
After a fair bit of waiting on that weirdly warm January day, FC Cincinnati selected a promising young winger from Portland University, Rey Ortiz. In his four year career at Portland, Ortiz racked up 14 goals and 26 assists in 64 total games, finding himself in the starting XI 50 times. Before attending Portland, Ortiz was a member of the LA Galaxy Academy, where he was even able to make two appearances for LA Galaxy 2 in the USL, notching an assist. Ortiz was also a member of the U-15 USMNT for a period during his youth career.
The Mexican-American was eager to come to FC Cincinnati and make an impact right away for the team, which he did in his first preseason appearance against Phoenix Rising FC. Ortiz started and played the first half in its entirety before there was a full lineup change for the second half. In his only half of play, Ortiz was able to link up with 2019 draftee Tommy McCabe and leftback Andrew Gutman on separate occasions for his first two assists in the Orange and Blue.
When asked about his first appearance and the nerves leading up to it, Ortiz said "I wasn't very nervous about my play. I believe in myself a lot and I know I'm capable of impacting the game. Day in and day out I've been putting in the work so I was happy to see my hard work shine through with the two assists." Ortiz followed up about his preseason as a whole. "The coaches and players have done a great job integrating me into the team. They welcomed me in with open arms and the transition has been smooth. I'm really enjoying myself here so far." During this time, Ortiz also noted how MLS veteran duo Nick Hagglund and Haris Medunjanin have been there to show him the ropes. "I've spoken to [Nick and Haris] a lot during my time here so far and they're great guys. They've both given me tips whenever I needed them and it's given me great insight both on and off the pitch."
It's fitting that Ortiz mentions Nick Hagglund as one of the players who has helped him the most. Ortiz stated his defensive game as the one thing that needs improved on the most, especially in FCC's system that sees the fullbacks join the attack. "The margins for error become slimmer and slimmer as the level of play heightens. With guys in the league like Carlos Vela and Chicharito, one mistake and you will be easily punished more times than not. Tracking back on defense to support will be vital for my game to be successful."
Offensively speaking, Ortiz sees himself as another versatile player in FCC's attacking arsenal. "I'm most comfortable on the right. I feel like I can play it really well because I've played there for a long time so that's where I'm most comfortable. I still feel good about my abilities on the left as well, where I can cut in and create some combination plays or shoot the ball. Wherever I find myself up top, I'm comfortable there."
Coming into his rookie season with the Orange and Blue, Ortiz knows where he stands on the team, especially after a total off-season revamp that saw, and is continuing to see, a plethora of talent injected into the squad. For the winger, the challenge of being on the outside is an exciting opportunity all in itself.
"I'm hoping to find myself in the 18. I've always tried to prove myself in whatever situation I'm given and also been grateful for whatever situations I'm in. I really enjoy the challenge of not being in the starting 11 right now and showing myself, along with others, that I can be a starter for this club or in the 18," said Ortiz. This won't be the first time the young star has had to start from the bottom and work his way up, as that's something Ortiz mentioned he has had to do his whole life. Growing up without many opportunities around him with regards to soccer, Ortiz learned how to take advantage of the ones that did come his way. In return, these opportunities shaped him into the man and person he is off the field as well, something he is eager to share with FC Cincinnati supporters.
When asked about how he would describe himself to the supporters, Ortiz stayed humble and showed a sense of urgency to be part of the community and culture built in Cincinnati. "As a player, I think that part will speak for itself once I begin to appear in games," Ortiz responded. "As a person, just how approachable I am. I grew up in a big community that shared similar values so I like to speak with people and help in the community wherever I can. I'm a loving and caring person to everybody and I want fans to see that side of me as well."
Part of the culture is obviously Skyline Chili, to which Rey said he hasn't been able to indulge in yet but will try it soon once they have some more time here in the Queen City.
As the regular season approaches and the anxiousness grows with every minute that passes, it's the perfect time to step back and take it all in. How far we've come as a team since our first USL season in 2016. There's belief in the front office, in the supporters groups, and in the locker room that this team has what it takes to be special, something that Ortiz was able to put into words for us.
"We're all excited to get on the pitch and uplift both the fans and the city of Cincinnati, who I know are craving a winning team. This team is one that is capable of making a playoff run and will be enjoyable to watch. That's something we've been working on this preseason, along with building a winning mentality. It's something myself, along with every guy in the locker room, is excited to put on display for the fans this season."
FC Cincinnati is currently back in Cincinnati to prepare for the season opener on the road against the New York Red Bulls on March 1st. The Orange and Blue travel to Atlanta the following weekend before making their first appearance at Nippert Stadium on March 14th, when they take on DC United.