ORLANDO, Florida – On Wednesday night, when they take on Haiti at Camping World Stadium, the Brazilian national team will feel right at home.
Orlando has become an unofficial home away from home for Brazilians, whose visits to Central Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel, have grown 900 percent since 2003.
“Brazilians have a very strong affinity for Orlando and we have a strong affinity for them as well,” said George Aguel, President and CEO of Visit Orlando. “Brazil is a key market for us and an area in which we are focused on for long-term growth. Brazil has been, and will remain, a significant focus of our international efforts.”
Orlando, home of Disney World and one of the top tourist destinations in the United States and the world, figures to capitalize on the Brazil boom even more thanks to Orlando City Soccer Club and its dedication to the Brazilian market. The club's owner, Flavio Augusto da Silva, is Brazilian as is the team's star player, Kaká.
“Orlando is now the most popular US vacation choice for Brazilians,” Aguel said. “Orlando City Soccer Club joined MLS just last year, and that certainly provided an exciting new layer to the Orlando experience for Brazilians, especially given their passion for soccer.”
Orlando City has fully committed itself to tapping into the Brazilian market. The club has a Facebook page in Portuguese, with 681,954 followers, and the club's English-language Facebook page often has comments in Portuguese on their posts.
Orlando was recently been named by WalletHub.com the best American city for soccer fans, beating out Los Angeles, Portland, Kansas City, and Seattle among others.
And the team prominently features Brazilian players on the pitch in the form of Kaká and Julio Baptista, which further strengthens ties to the Brazilian community.
“Orlando City has done a great job in catering to the Brazilian public,” says Sergio Marcondes, who waited at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes Hotel for more than five hours to take pictures with some of his favorite Brazil players. “Kaká, and now Julio Baptista are two big names in Brazil, and having those two here in Orlando has been tremendous.”
“I wasn’t a big follower of Orlando City,” added Rigoberto Mangueira, an Orlando resident for the last 11 years. “But because of Kaká I always kept paying attention to them and have grown to follow them.”
As is the norm in most cities where the Brazil plays, fans in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton were dressed in their yellow jerseys and anxiously waited, often more than an hour at a time, for a member of the team to walk by.
With the Seleção under scrutiny from all sides, a home atmosphere will be just what Brazil will need to get a much-needed three points versus Haiti on Wednesday night.
“This isn’t one of the strongest Brazil teams,” Mangueira said. “But it’s my home country and every time I have the opportunity to see them live and in-person I make it a priority.”
Kayan Mendes, who is visiting Orlando from Brazil, heard that the delegation would be at the the Ritz-Carlton and bargained with his mother to come get a glimpse of his beloved national team, and the player he most wanted to meet: Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho.
“I told her I would cut one day at the parks to come to the hotel and wait for a chance to see them,” Mendes said with a big smile on his face after taking a picture with Dunga and Taffarel.
“He said, ‘Mom, I can’t miss the opportunity to see Brazil while I’m in Orlando,'” Mendes’ mother, Tereza Mendes, said. “So we made a deal: No Disney Hollywood Studios, and we would camp out here for the day.”