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SSFC Spotlight: Michael Halliday goes from late roster addition to starting lineup

The defender is having a solid season with Orlando City.

MLS: New York City FC at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 U-20 World Cup is underway, with the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team carrying a 2-0-0 record, including a 1-0 win against Ecuador and a 3-0 victory over Fiji. A spot in the knockout rounds appears likely, which would provide more opportunities for players to stand out. Michael Halliday was the final addition to the USMNT U-20 roster, named as an injury substitute to replace Mauricio Cuevas. The 20-year-old defender has been enjoying a strong season in Major League Soccer and earned a start for Mikey Varas’ side in the second fixture, playing all 90 minutes in the shutout.

Born in Orlando, Halliday was a multi-sport athlete and played with Orlando City Youth Soccer before joining the Orlando City Academy in 2016, rising through the ranks from the U-16 to the U-19 level. In March of 2020, the club promoted him to the reserve team in USL League One. He made seven appearances, notching an assist in a 3-1 loss to Forward Madison.

During that season, Orlando City signed him to a Homegrown contract as the then-youngest player in first-team history, joining training following the quarantine bubble. “After starting out in our academy and signing with Orlando City B, Michael has been able to train with our First Team, including during our time in Mexico this preseason,” said executive Luiz Muzzi. “He has continuously showcased his potential and we are very excited to see him continue to grow as a member of our club.”

In 2021, Halliday made his first-team debut, starting and appearing for 63 minutes in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Due to a minor injury crisis, he played in six total matches but was largely out of the match-day lineup after July. His performances displayed improvement and some measure of potential, albeit with a lack of true impact.

Last season, Halliday split time between the reserve and senior squads. He appeared in six league fixtures, two U.S. Open Cup matches during a successful title run, and made a brief substitution in Orlando’s 2-0 loss to CF Montréal in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Mane Land described him as “fairly solid in his limited minutes” and noted that his performance against the Philadelphia Union was particularly strong, with the defender “holding his own” while “setting up two scoring chances with key passes.”

In 2023, Halliday began the year in the lineup following the departure of Ruan, starting in five out of the opening six matches, including playing all 180 minutes in the unsuccessful CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 series against Tigres. Despite missing a month with international duty and a thigh injury, he has featured in 11 league and cup fixtures, registering an assist in a 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy. Both American Soccer Now and noted his vast improvement, with increased passing accuracy and more success in the air. His objective is to eventually reach Europe, viewing the move as the next step in his career.

“He’s a player who came from our program, our academy, our community,” Orlando manager Óscar Pareja shared with FOX 35 Orlando. “And we are proud of that. And his evolution is constant. So Michael’s energy and that willingness to get better, it just makes a good case all the time, and he’s, you know, in our plans all the time and I think his growth has been very good.”

Head coach Mikey Varas named Halliday to the roster for last summer’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship, appearing in six matches and starting four. Despite remaining on the bench for the final, a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic, and not being included in the squad for the 2022 Revelations Cup, he received a late ticket onto the plane to the U-20 World Cup, replacing the injured Mauricio Cuevas following approval from FIFA.

Halliday is a defense-first right fullback who can also line up centrally and at midfielder. He excels at taking down opposing dribblers and blocking passes, in the 98th and 97th MLS percentiles, respectively. When taking the reins in the final third, his incisive crosses are dangerous, although accuracy can be an issue. Across the board, his passing, aerial duel, tackling, and dribbling statistics have improved from the previous season.

“Halliday is showing flashes that he could not only match [his Orlando predecessor], but potentially surpass him very soon,” wrote Christopher Adams for O-Town’s 11. “The 20-year-old can get up the field at pace… What really makes Halliday special and a potential difference maker is his skill. He’s already at the same level as [his predecessor] on the defensive end, and could feasibly get better with seasoning… He floats the ball up into the box… and actually gives players a chance to attack. We’ve yet to see the exact timing or placement needed to turn the cross into a real chance, but it’s abundantly clear that Halliday can hit a much cleaner cross. A dangerous wide threat on the right flank is essential to how Orlando City wants to attack. Halliday is already showing flashes that he’s more than ready to take on that challenge.”

While being the last player added to the roster, mere days before the start of the competition, Halliday has carried over his MLS form and contributed to the cause. A cliched sentiment, but defense takes on greater importance at the international level due to the lack of squad chemistry and less-involved tactics that are often focused on minimizing errors and maintaining a cohesive structure. Beyond his play, the ability to step into the squad and make an impact is commendable, perhaps demonstrating the often-intangible adaptability and readiness that augur long-term professional success.