Soccer is probably not the first thing the average American associates with the city of Orlando.
Well, that's about to change after Tuesday's announcement that
Orlando City Soccer Club will be joining MLS in 2015
as the league's 21st club.
But even before Tuesday, Orlando has had its fair share of memorable soccer moments that would be the envy of most US cities – enough, in fact, for a ranking. Here are the Top 10 moments in Orlando soccer history:
10) USMNT DEBUTS IN ORLANDO:
The first time the US men's national team team played in Orlando was in 1993 — a 1-0 loss to Russia at the Citrus Bowl. They would return twice more, but the last visit came back in 1998. It's a safe bet that will be addressed when Orlando City get their new soccer stadium in 2015.
9) ESPN WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS COMPLEX OPENS:
It's considered the Disney World for sports geeks and it opened in 1997. Over the years, it's become the destination for hundreds of soccer talents from around the world who compete in the Disney Cup International (since 1999) and the Disney Soccer Showcase, two of the premier events on the international youth soccer calendar.
The facilities have not only attracted MLS team preseason camps, but now Italian giants AS Roma have also recently made it their winter getaway spot.
8) 2011 DISNEY PRO SOCCER CLASSIC:
This rite of preseason actually started in 2010 (the Red Bulls won the trophy, no joke), but it's the 2011 edition that saw Orlando City make their debut and they did it in style, shocking the field to finish third. The tournament is still going strong every February at the ESPN complex.
7) ORLANDO KNOCK OFF NEWCASTLE UNITED:
Orlando City have been playing in the minor leagues for the last three years, but they've never shied away from international competition, taking the field against the likes of AS Roma (Italy), Stoke City (England) and Fluminense (Brazil).
And in July 2011, they had only been around for a few months. But that mattered little when EPL club Newcastle United came to town and suffered a 1-0 loss at the hands of the Lions in front of 10,889.
6) USWNT MAKE A COMEBACK:
When the US women's national team beat Brazil just a few days ago, it was their first match in Orlando since Mia Hamm set a new international goalscoring record there in May 1999 (attendance: 10,452). And on this latest return the Citrus Bowl, the crowd was much larger. The 20,274 were the most ever to watch a USWNT friendly in the southeast US.
5) 2011 USL PRO CHAMPIONSHIP:
That first title in OCSC's inaugural 2011 season was arguably the first watershed moment on the road to expansion. The home crowd got to watch a classic between OCSC and Harrisburg: a see-saw 2-2 draw finishing in a penalty kick shootout thriller.
4) 1996 OLYMPICS:
Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain began their march to the 1996 Olympic gold at the Citrus Bowl with
two group-stage wins over Denmark (25,303) and Sweden (28,000). Orlando also hosted six men's matches, including four which broke the 20,000 attendance mark.
3) 1998 MLS ALL-STAR GAME:
After two seasons at Giants Stadium, MLS surprisingly decided to take its summer marquee event to Orlando, where the US All-Stars -- essentially the US men's national team -- hammered the World All-Stars 6-1 in front of 34,416. It was a good day to be a US fan: the first game of the doubleheader event saw the USWNT beat Canada 4-0.
2) 2013 USL PRO CHAMPIONSHIP:
There was no hiding all the expansion chatter when Orlando hosted the Charlotte Eagles for the 2013 USL PRO title. That MLS expansion pursuit heaped enormous pressure on the club to continue to build momentum for their bid and the Lions delivered in a must-win game, coming from behind to win a wild 7-4 match in front of a club-record crowd of 20,886, the most ever for a USL PRO match.
1) 1994 WORLD CUP:
This event meant enough to the city that there's still a soccer monument standing in front of City Hall to memorialize it. Orlando hosted five matches during USA '94, four in the group stage and one in the Round of 16 — all with 60,000-plus attendance.
There may have been a Luis García brace in a Mexico win and two Belgium victories at the Citrus Bowl, but Orlando will be remembered that summer as the defacto US base for Dennis Bergkamp's entertaining Netherlands, who played three matches at the Citrus Bowl including the knockout round triumph over the Republic of Ireland that launched them into the quarters.