ORLANDO, Fla. – USL club Orlando City SC is officially on the map. The MLS expansion map.
“Orlando had never been on our list in the past,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber affirmed on Thursday afternoon in his first public visit to the Florida city to discuss potential expansion. "It’s on our list now."
Following a morning of introductory meetings with the city and county mayors, Garber attended a lunchtime Q&A session with fans featuring more than 200 supporters who crowded Orlando City SC’s official pub, the Mojo Bar and Grill downtown.
Fans showed up in force with drums and banners, including one which stated, “Garber We Ready.” They began their chanting well before Garber entered the establishment alongside Orlando City SC owner Phil Rawlins. Several of the club’s players were also on hand.
“This is a really great statement about what you have going down here in Orlando,” said Garber, who compared the gathering to the fan rally he held with the Sons of Ben in Philadelphia before their successful bid for expansion. “This is an amazing statement about what is happening with soccer in America.”
What emerged from the discussion as the top priority for the Orlando bid to take flight is the construction of a soccer-specific stadium in the market which “makes sense for the city, the county, the investors and the club,” according to Garber.
“No. 1 in any expansion process is ownership and we have that in place [in Orlando],” the MLS Commissioner told media following the conclusion of the event. “No. 2 is the right market that will support it and, No. 3 is the facility.
"I think we have a good market here, the right ownership group and we haven’t begun the process on the facility. Until we’re able to get further on that, it’ll just force us to continue to work harder on the last piece of the puzzle.”
In the meantime, the Commissioner urged the club and its fans to continue to build the Orlando City SC base from 3,500 season tickets to an average attendance of more than 10,000.
It’s an ambitious goal for a club in the third tier of American soccer and, although it’s early days in the expansion process, Garber’s words will have encouraged the boisterous group on hand.
“We thought it was about time that we stepped it up a notch,” Garber addressed the crowd, “and start getting a bit more aggressive in figuring out what we need to do to have Orlando City become an expansion team in Major League Soccer.”