ORLANDO, Fla. – Exploria Stadium was rocking for the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday night. The event is a party and the hosts did not disappoint. The pregame pyrotechnics were extravagant and the home supporters loud.
But it begs the question: Just how great could a big Orlando City SC playoff match be at the venue? Unfortunately for the die-hard supporters who loudly pack The Wall, the club’s safe-standing area, it’s still a question to be answered only with imagination.
Orlando have yet to make the playoffs in their first four seasons in MLS and face an uphill battle to do so this year, seven points below the playoff line with 11 games remaining.
“The atmosphere was fantastic this evening,” Nani said after the All-Stars’ 3-0 loss to Atletico Madrid. “I feel that all the Orlando fans here at the stadium were shouting, they were singing. They showed what Orlando City is about. When Orlando City play, the crowd is better, it’s different. It was great to feel home, feel the atmosphere. I’m very happy all the fans were singing, shouting all the names during the game. It was fun to see all these stars, this is a great moment.”
The fans made their presence known, particularly when booing Atlanta United’s All-Star contingent; Brad Guzan had the unfortunate assignment of defending the goal in front of The Wall for his 30 minutes on the field.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Orlando City boss James O’Connor said of the fans after coaching the All-Stars. “It’s something the supporters have deserved. Obviously I’ve said many times we’ve got the best supporters in the league. And they’ve shown it again tonight. They’ve come in terrific numbers despite the difficult weather and stayed. So again, for all the supporters it’s a wonderful occasion. It’s great they’ve been able to see a team like Atletico come and play.”
Now, the party leaves town and the Lions return to their home stadium staring an arduous route to the playoff line this weekend.
“I think we’ve spoken a lot about how determined we are to make sure that we get back to that level,” O’Connor said. “That’s something that is a burning desire from myself and from all the players -- is to make sure we go out and try to achieve something.”
They are, however, still very alive in the U.S. Open Cup. Chasing their first trophy since joining MLS, Orlando City host Atlanta United in the semifinal of the competition at Exploria on Tuesday (7:30 pm ET | ESPN+).
“It would mean a lot,” Nani said of bringing home a trophy. “We’re working hard, try to win every game because we’re in a situation where we cannot give points away. In the cup we know we have a chance to make a big step. We must focus, first of all the next game, then on the cup, give everything we can in front of our fans to try and reach the final.”