With Tuesday’s announcement that Orlando City SC will join Major League Soccer as the latest expansion franchise in 2015, it’s time to get to know the 21st club in MLS.
Logo: Animal names have always been few and far between in MLS, and aside from Chivas USA’s Goats – and maybe the New York Red Bulls, if you want to get picky – Orlando City’s Lions are really a break from the norm. The current logo actually uses three lions’ heads pivoted left, right and center, and the mascot’s name is Kingston. No word yet on if the logo will get a facelift before making its MLS debut.
Jerseys: 14 current MLS teams can count either a shade of blue or red as their primary color, but purple? That’s new ground. Expect most of the team’s garb to be decked out in Prince’s favorite color, with gold and red serving as the secondary colors. The team also announced Monday that Orlando Health – a leading healthcare provider in Central Florida – will serve as the jersey sponsor.
History: The current incarnation of the club was founded in 2010 when the Austin Aztex moved to the Sunshine State, but there’s history of the club that dates back to its first run as the Orlando Lions in 1985. They played in the American Soccer League and later merged with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1990, and notable former players include longtime Fox broadcaster Christopher Sullivan and NFL placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, who played for the team’s U-19 squad after emigrating from Poland to Orlando.
Trophies: Orlando City have been the preeminent team in USL PRO since the league was founded in 2011, winning the regular-season title that year and again in 2012, and capturing postseason titles in 2011 and 2013. And although there was no hardware awarded, the team claimed a major scalp during the US Open Cup earlier this year when they stunned reigning tourney champ Sporting Kansas City in the fourth round.
Stadium: Orlando City will call ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex home in 2014, then will open MLS play in 2015 in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, where they’ve played since 2010. The stadium is best known in soccer circles for hosting five matches during the 1994 World Cup, but it also hosted matches during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Orlando City are hoping to christen a sparkling new soccer-specific stadium downtown by summer 2015 that will house 18,000 fans. And no need to worry about turf in Florida – both the Citrus Bowl and the proposed stadium will have grass fields.
Ownership: The new man on the MLS scene is also the first South American owner in league history. Flávio Augusto da Silva, a 41-year-old entrepreneur born in Rio de Janeiro, became an investor and primary owner in Orlando City in February after making his name by founding Wise Up, an international company that specializes in teaching fluent English to adults. Said da Silva during his unveiling in February: “Soccer is not a sport of the future in the US. It is a reality.”
Front Office: There are few personalities in American soccer more likeable than affable Englishman Phil Rawlins (right), a part owner who will serve as club president. He originally founded the Aztex in 2007 before he moved the club to Orlando in 2010 with eyes on building it into an MLS expansion franchise. He’s also a part owner and director with Stoke City, the English Premier League club that’s taken over Fulham’s mantle as the destination for talented young Americans looking to break through in Europe.
Head Coach: The man in charge since 2008 is Adrian Heath, a 52-year-old former regular with Everton, Manchester City and Burnley during his playing days in the 1980s and 1990s. He was the USL PRO Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and has received ringing endorsements from Rawlins in the buildup to the MLS announcement.
Top Player: Dom Dwyer lit the league on fire last summer while on loan from Sporting KC, but Texas-born midfielder Jamie Watson is arguably the face of the franchise. Originally selected 13th overall in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft by Real Salt Lake, Watson has been with the Austin/Orlando franchise since 2009 and has started at least 17 games each year Orlando has had a team.
Rivalries: Rumors of a star-studded Miami expansion bid notwithstanding, Orlando are all alone in the Southeast. The closest club is D.C. United – that’s 847 miles, the furthest distance between any MLS team and its closest neighbor – and there’s no history elsewhere to speak of to get the fires stoked in 2015. Perhaps they will have an expansion rivalry with New York City FC? Or maybe the USOC win over Sporting Kansas City is a jumping off point?
DP Target: You don’t get much bigger in the soccer world or on social media that Brazilian darling Kaká (pictured to left, on right), who has been very publicly linked to the club owned by his friend da Silva. The Real Madrid star seems tailor-made to become the “Brazilian Beckham” the club’s front office has planned for their 2015 splash, and if he does sign – and make at least some of his 17.4 million Twitter followers fans of Orlando City – what a coup it would be.
Supporters: The two major supporters' groups in Orlando are the Iron Lion Firm and The Ruckus, who occupy adjacent sections at the south end (known as "The Shoe End") of the Citrus Bowl. The Ruckus came first back in 2009 without an affiliation to any specific team, while the Iron Lion Firm separated from the Ruckus before Orlando City's first season. Expect the numbers to skyrocket leading up to the club's MLS debut.
Market Size: Orlando is the 20th-largest metropolitan area in the United States, with 2.92 million people according to the 2012 census estimates, and one of the fastest-growing major cities in the country. The area boasts a growing Brazilian population buoyed by tourism (35 percent of Brazilians visiting the US head straight to Orlando), and the city has the nation’s fourth fastest-growing Latino market.