Photo courtesy Mark Thor / Orlando City B
Stepping into a professional locker room for the first time as a 17-year-old rookie, you might have expected Orlando City SC’s Tyler Turner to maybe be a little awed at his new surroundings.
With the hope of being a professional player on day a lifelong dream, though, when the moment came for his first preseason in 2014, Turner embraced the moment.
“Now that I look back at it, I’m actually surprised I wasn’t more nervous than I actually was to begin with,” the young fullback said recently. “At 17, you’re still just playing football for fun, it doesn’t set into your head like this is my livelihood now, this is how I’m going to make money. For me as a player, I try to look back at that when I was 17 and playing with them, and it was just fun. That’s how football should always be, no matter the result, how it goes, you’re going out there and you have one of the best jobs in the world, and you’re enjoying it.”
That season saw Turner deliver exciting performances for the Lions as they played their final season in the USL before joining MLS. He made 24 appearances, had a goal and two assists, and became a finalist for the USL Rookie of the Year honor as Orlando claimed its third USL regular season championship.
The club’s move to MLS meant fewer chances for live action last year, though, as more experienced players coming into the club saw Turner make only seven appearances. While Turner, and others like Conor Donovan and Harrison Heath were improving in practice, the chance to put what they were learning into action didn’t arrive until the establishment of Orlando City B this season.
“They were training all week and you’re working on aspects of the game for them to improve and get better, but then there’s no game at the end of the week for them to put that into practice,” said OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis. “I think Tyler and the other young players we have on the MLS roster have benefitted from that hugely this year.”
Photo courtesy Orlando City SC
Now, as one of the key players for OCB, Turner is getting the chance to raise his level each week as Orlando pushes for a place in the USL Playoffs.
“The standard of the USL is getting very high, and it’s a hard league to grind results in week-in and week-out and get into the playoffs,” said Turner. “I think the standard is definitely there, and for you to achieve it, you have to put in your all, so you can’t take a step back when you’re in the USL and trying to go up to the [MLS] team, you have to bring your ‘A’ game every day.”
Bringing that ‘A’ game has seen Turner improve his in-game decision-making and positioning, and also seek to improve his composure. While both are still works in progress, the progression from two years ago is marked.
“I can remember playing with him [in 2014], and there would be instances where Luke Boden would be crossing the ball in an advance left-wing position, and Tyler [would be] in the box trying to attack a header,” said Pulis. “You’re having to pull him aside and tell him, ‘look, that’s not what we want our right back to be doing while our left back is crossing the ball.’ Little things like that, making sure he’s switched on and in a good position so that when the ball turns over in transition he’s in a good position, I think he’s done that.”
Turner has definitely appreciated the input he’s received from Pulis and assistant coach Rob Valentino, both of whom were his teammates in 2014. The tandem has helped pull a diverse group together in OCB’s first season, including players like fellow Academy graduate and U.S. U19 international Pierre Da Silva, who has made a strong transition in his first professional season.
“I knew them coming in to being coaches and having young guys, they were going to be fine as they are now,” Turner said. “You can see it now progressing, especially with Pierre Da Silva. He’s a phenomenal player, only just turned 18 like a week ago, so I think you can see they’re really good with youngsters, and even the older pros, and can really mold the team into what they want.”
Photo courtesy Mark Thor / Orlando City B
While Pulis and Valentino have worked to improve Turner’s defensive game, his attacking instincts are still intact. With four goals and one assist this season, Turner’s ability to take on opponents one-on-one in the attacking end makes him a player opponents across the USL have to account for.
With that said, Turner understands what it’s going to take to make the next step. With Boden and Kevin Alston providing the example, the consistency that’s required to both succeed at the MLS and international level is something he is looking to add game by game with OCB.
“You can’t go from one week being very good and another week being very bad,” Turner said. “They keep it to a ‘t’ every time, and they bring it every time, and I think for me that’s the [biggest] part where I try to take out of their game and put into mine. I just like their consistency, and their defending.”
Finding that consistency will hopefully allow Turner to blossom into the standout many think he has the potential to be. Adding strength and conditioning in the weight room as well as honing his game tactically, Turner is putting in the work with the goal of being part of the conversation for both club and country in the future.
Beyond that, though, Turner still has a unique enjoyment of doing what he’s always wanted in the city he loves.
“Everyone always told me it’s harder to stay here than to get here, and obviously when you’re younger you just say, ‘yeah, yeah,’ you brush it off, but now it’s your life, you understand,” Turner said. “With pressure and all that, it’s a hard and taxing job, but the rewards are endless, and I love everything about it, and I love Orlando. It’s a great place, a great team and a great community all together, the fans are amazing, so for me being a professional footballer in this town, they just make it all well worth it.”