By: Ryan Wright
Some of the seemingly most unlikely cities to support soccer in America have become some of the sports strongest supporters. Places like Kansas City, Seattle and Portland have a strong soccer culture and their respective MLS clubs are known as some of the most vocal fans in the league. Orlando City SC will join MLS this upcoming season and Orlando looks as if it will join the ranks of the soccer capitals of America.
Orlando City SC has had quite the journey to MLS. The club was founded in 2010 and played its first season in ULS Pro in 2011. Since day one, the club has had the intent of joining MLS.
During their four years in USL Pro, Orlando City was absolutely dominant. The club won two titles and three Supporters’ Shields, including a 7-4 win over the Charlotte Eagles in the 2013 USL Pro title match.
After their dominance of USL Pro, management, players and fans hope to keep that success going as they join MLS in 2015.
Luke Boden has played for Orlando City since its foundation in 2011, he’s been the core of the club’s defense and is excited to finally play in MLS.
“Obviously it means a lot to me. I always want to play at the highest level that I can. Thankfully now, I’m playing in the MLS. Hopefully I can stay there now” said Boden.
Before joining Orlando City, Boden began his professional career with his hometown club of Sheffield Wednesday of the English League Championship.
Boden has made 82 appearances for Orlando City SC, scoring four goals and garnering 15 assist.
“Now, my objective is to try and play myself week in and week out. Obviously I’ve got to prove myself to the gaffer and the other guys in the team and hopefully I can do that” said Boden.
Management has made it clear that they are expecting success this upcoming season.
“I think the management and the owners have made it very clear that we want to go on and win things. Obviously we’re aiming really high and I’m sure that we will succeed” said Boden.
However, fans seem to have more humble yet optimistic expectations for the upcoming MLS season. Timothy Murphy is an Orlando City SC supporter from Gainesville, FL and became a huge fan after the 2014 World Cup.
“Getting a team for my state is huge as a fan. At first I thought ‘oh cool Orlando’ but as time went on it was obvious the front office and powers that be are running this club extremely well” said Murphy.
As for his expectations, Murphy thinks winning the MLS Cup in the clubs first season is a long shot, but is confident that the club will make the playoffs.
“Other teams are bolstering their ranks just like us. I think it is realistic right now to think this team will make the playoffs their first year. I wouldn’t be disappointed with that at all.”
Another fan from Gainesville, Joey Bradfield has similar expectations.
“Ideally I’d love to see the team win the MLS cup, but given how hard it has been for expansion teams to break through the playoffs I can’t see it happening .That said, I think Orlando has enough quality to make it to the playoffs and give it a right proper go. I’m excited to see how Molino, Kaka, and to an extent Shea can do along with the rest of the team.”
Bradfield grew up a Newcastle United supporter, but because of the distance Bradfield became interested in Orlando City SC. He was hooked.
“Orlando City is the first time I’ve been able to feel part of a club. I’ve seen them win their first championship on penalties. I was there when 20,000 fans were at the Citrus Bowl to see the team win 7-4.”
Bradfield isn’t a paid member of a supporters group, but he regularly sits with the Iron Lion Firm, one of Orlando City’s largest supporters groups. He’s attracted to the organization as a whole.
“They’re well and truly part of the community. Plus, the way they’ve created their own OCSC pyramid from U-4’s to the first team is very impressive not only for Orlando, but for American soccer itself. Overall Orlando City is a great team and organization, and I can’t wait to see us start play this march.”
Chris Hawley from Tampa, FL shares his expectations on the upcoming season.
“With the squad they’ve put together I certainly think they can win this year. The worry I have is we’ll be playing 20 games or so on turf this year, so how will we be at the end of the season? Will we have to rotate our guys a lot to save them? If so, will we lose some games because of that? I think they are definitely building a squad that can win now but I wonder how the turf situation will affect us now.”
Despite his doubts on how playing on turf with affect the club, Hawley has high hopes for the future of Orlando City SC.
“I also think that the team they’re putting together will be one of the best in the next 3-4 years. We got a few guys like Turner, Redding, Cyle, Ramos, and some others that really have a chance to be top of the line guys. Adrian (Heath) and the front office have done a great job of keeping long and short term goals in mind” said Hawley.
Similar to Bradfield and Murphy, Hawley doesn’t live in Orlando but considers the club his hometown team due to the proximity of Orlando and Tampa.
“I love that Adrian (Heath) and Phil (Rawlins) have brought an English feel to how we play and run the organization. I’ve been an Arsenal fan since I was young and love how the EPL is played. The way Adrian and Phil have built the team and the style they play made the team even more attractive to me” said Hawley.
Hawley shares a similar sentiment to Bradfield and Murphy. He likes the way the club has built the team and how the club has portrayed itself to the public.
“I think they did things the right way and built the fan base through winning and time. I think the whole ‘Built not Bought’ movement was stupid, but other than that I think they have marketed this organization well and allows anyone to get involved regardless of whether or not they’re a soccer fan” said Hawley.
Orlando City SC’s fan base is definitely looking forward to the upcoming season and has strongly supported the club since its inception. Luke Boden expects fan support to be no different than it has in the past.
“I’m sure the fans will be the same. As they have been over the last four years in the USL. They’ve always been great. They’ll be very vocal, they’ll definitely make a twelfth man for the players” said Boden.