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Opinion

Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals

Orlando City’s 10th year in MLS should be used to honor the players who built the club.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

The 2024 season is Orlando City’s 10th in Major League Soccer. The club has scheduled several events throughout the year to celebrate having been in the country’s top division for a decade, but the season should also be a time for fans to reflect on the people who made it happen without getting to experience the result.

Orlando City arrived in Orlando in 2010 with the goal of reaching MLS. However, it was the first professional soccer team in the city since the 1990s and resides in a football hotbed, leaving many to wonder if the team would be successful. The most famous doubt came at the team’s inaugural media day, when longtime WESH 2 sportscaster Pat Clake told club founder Phil Rawlins and inaugural Head Coach Adrian Heath that, while he wished them luck, a professional soccer team in Orlando would never work.

The Orlando project got off to a much better start than the Austin Aztex, Rawlins’ former project. During the team’s first season in 2011, Orlando City substantially outdrew its predecessor, proving there was an appetite for soccer. But there was another factor to the team’s popularity. The Lions won…a lot.

The success of a team at home has a significant impact on the enjoyment of attending games. In four USL Pro seasons, Orlando City was 40-3-9 (W-L-D) at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, winning three regular season titles and two USL Pro championships. Seeing the local team win and score frequently is much more likely to result in people returning for more games. That’s exactly what the Lions did, and it helped to create a following.

When MLS considered Orlando City for expansion, the league looked at average attendance, season ticket numbers, and community involvement. All of these factors were directly related to the team’s success on the field. For this reason, the key players on those teams are responsible for Orlando City being in MLS in the first place. 

In addition to their work on the field, the players from the USL Pro era worked in the community to build a following. They spoke with local groups and were active throughout Central Florida, convincing people to attend games. It was all about the effort of getting the team into MLS. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t get to experience the results of their labor.

The core of Orlando City’s team from 2011 to 2013 remained the same, with Miguel Gallardo in goal, Luke Boden at left back, Rob Valentino at center back, Kevin Molino and Jamie Watson in the midfield, and Dennis Chin up top. The success they had resulted in the club being announced as the newest expansion side on Nov. 19, 2013. However, of those six stalwarts, only Boden and Molino continued with the team into MLS.

Over the past 10 years, Orlando City has had several star and fan favorite players come and go. As the club’s USL Pro era gets further in the rearview mirror, the players who built the organization are forgotten or unknown by a large portion of the fanbase that didn’t experience the early seasons.

To the club’s credit, Orlando City worked to keep the memory of the team’s foundation alive in recent years. This preseason, Chin, Lewis Neal (a 2011 original who returned to the team in MLS), and Dom Dwyer (who was on loan with the team in 2013 and returned in 2017) were involved in the popular away jersey unveiling. Additionally, Chin signed autographs and took part in a Q&A session during the Society XXI preseason game against the New England Revolution. They’ve had other events, like the 2022 U.S. Open Cup games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when former players have been invited back.

Additionally, the club raised banners last year for the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro championships and announced this year that it will display the trophies in a new permanent exhibit called “The Vault.” The club also released an updated version of the three-lion USL Pro logo from those first four seasons.

When people consider the factors that resulted in Orlando City joining MLS in 2015, the fan support during the USL Pro years is the first thing that comes to mind. But without the success of those teams and the work the players put into building the following, the club likely never would’ve made it to the top division. This 10th anniversary season is a good time to remember those club legends.

Opinion

Predicting Orlando City’s April Results

Let’s peek into the crystal ball and take a crack at predicting Orlando City’s games during the month of April.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Every Major League Soccer schedule has its peaks and valleys, and Orlando City is currently traversing one of the valleys. After a fast and furious start to the year that saw the Lions competing in both the Concacaf Champions Cup and MLS play, OCSC won’t play another game until next Saturday, April 13. Since we’ve got a bit of time on our hands, I wanted to take a crack at predicting the outcomes of the three games that Orlando will play during the month of April. Away we go.

Saturday, April 13 — at D.C. United

The first game back following a two-week break sees the Lions travel to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United. D.C. has been quite the bogey team for Orlando the last two seasons, frequently getting the better of the Lions despite being one of the league’s worst teams during that time. At the time of this writing, D.C. is eighth in the East with a record of 2-1-3 (9 points). The two wins came against Montreal, which has been decent so far, and New England, which has been absolutely woeful. Christian Benteke has four goals in four games, with three of them coming in the 3-1 victory over the Revs. The Lions will be coming off two weeks to work out some of the offensive kinks we’ve seen up to this point in the season, and they should have everyone available for selection after injuries and international call-ups thinned the ranks. Now seems like as good a time as any for OCSC to turn around its recent form against DCU, and I’ll pick the Lions in this one.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-1 D.C. United.


Saturday, April 20 — at CF Montreal

After D.C., the Lions will stay on the road and take on CF Montreal north of the border in a rematch of the season opener. As previously mentioned, Montreal has had a decent start to 2024 and is currently 2-2-1 (7 points) and in 10th place. In early March the Canadian club posted back-to-back wins against FC Dallas, which has been very poor so far, and Inter Miami, which has been pretty good. Matias Coccaro leads them with three goals in five games, with an assist thrown in as well. This is Orlando nemesis Josef Martinez’s first year on the team, and he’s got a goal and two assists in 249 minutes of play. The first time the two teams played this season it was a sloppy, scoreless affair, and one in which both teams may have felt they should have been victorious. I think it’ll be a pretty evenly matched affair once again, albeit one that’s higher scoring.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-2 CF Montreal.


Saturday, April 27 — vs. Toronto FC

OCSC rounds off the month of April with a visit from Toronto FC. Thus far, Toronto has been much improved from a woeful 2023 season, and is currently an aesthetically pleasing 3-2-1, (10 points) and sitting in fifth. The three wins have come against Atlanta United, which has been good, Charlotte FC which has been decent, and New England, which — as previously mentioned — has been quite bad. The Reds dropped games to New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City, and the prevailing theme in their matches this year has been struggling to put the ball in the back of the net. TFC has only scored multiple goals once, in its 2-0 win over Atlanta, and its six goals on the year is just one better than Orlando City’s tally of five. The team also has a lengthy injury list, and Lorenzo Insigne may not be available due to a hamstring injury. I think playing at home helps see the Lions through in this one, as the boys find their shooting boots.

Prediction: Orlando City 3-1 Toronto FC.


If things go as I predicted, Orlando will take seven points from an available nine, which would be a welcome sight after a sputtering start to 2024. Much of my predictions are based on the belief that this is a good team with good players, which simply needs a bit of time to integrate new faces and new ideas, and will start playing more in line with preseason expectations once it’s had time to do so. If chemistry is still slow to form after the two-week layoff, then the month of April could be a very different story, but for now I’m choosing the path of optimism. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

International Duty Provides Facundo Torres an Opportunity for Reset

Orlando City needs its Uruguayan star to find his best form.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City closes out the month of March against Eastern Conference foes the New York Red Bulls tonight in Central Florida. For one of the first times this season, the Lions will look to take the pitch with a seemingly healthy and rested lineup. Orlando demonstrated what it was capable of last time out with a full week of training under its belt with a complete 2-0 victory against Austin FC.

The victory could be considered even more impressive due to the fact that it was achieved without six regular starters, five of whom were away representing their home nations and Cesar Araujo, who missed the match due to injury. Araujo’s availability at this time still is unknown but it is reasonable to expect that the remaining players who were away over the last week and a half will return to their usual slots in the starting 11.

March results came in like a lamb and are hopefully going to finish like a lion in terms of victories for Orlando City. The same can be said for Designated Player Facundo Torres. Now in his third season with Orlando, I feel like right about this time every year I have written an article about the team needing more from Torres. And then, every year Torres has responded in a big way throughout the late spring and early summer.

Zero goals and zero assists over three MLS matches is certainly not the start that Torres expected to begin the year, nor is it the type of start that Orlando could afford to bury behind other players’ efforts as the entire offensive unit has struggled to find its footing out of the gate. On the season thus far, Torres is completing 80.5% of his passes and has registered only a lone shot attempt on target on two total scoring attempts. He did manage three goals and an assist in Concacaf Champions Cup play, so the offense is there, it just hasn’t found its way into MLS matches yet.

For Orlando to climb its way back up the table, Torres has to reach the gear that everyone knows he is capable of now. Not the middle of June, or early July, but right now.

Torres is no stranger to slow starts in MLS play, but even by his standards 2024 has been sluggish so far. In 2022, his first year in the league, Torres managed one assist and five shot attempts (none on target) through his first three MLS matches. A year ago, El Cuervo scored one goal on five shots, putting just the one on target. So he’s a few shots and a goal contribution behind his usual pace, despite contributing offensively in Concacaf play.

After a short stint with the Uruguay Men’s National Team, Torres’ time to be the catalyst that Orlando City needs has arrived. The good news for Facu and Orlando City fans is that the Red Bulls are a squad against which Torres has historically preformed very strongly. The attacking winger scored three goals against the Red Bulls in 2023 alone.

I believe that Torres benefited from a short break away from the squad and will start to turn the corner soon. I will excitedly and expectantly be on the lookout for Torres to regain his form tonight and hopefully that will help elevate all of his teammates.


Is there anyone else who you think benefited from the early season international period? Let us know in the comments below and as always, vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth

Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.

For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.

At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.

This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.

Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.

As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.

All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.


Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!

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