As Orlando City SC prepare for entry into MLS in a year's time, it appears that the Lions' brand may be set for some expansion of its own.
On Tuesday, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Orlando's USL PRO franchise could be relocated to Kentucky for 2015, providing OCSC with an instant lower-division affiliate and bringing pro soccer to an intriguing new frontier in the United States.
As it happens, one of Orlando City's minority owners is Wayne Estopinal, a Louisville-based architect who owns an indoor soccer facility in Derby City and is eager to bring USL PRO to his town as well.
Estopinal says USL approved the move at their annual meeting last month, pending the approval of OCSC's other owners, and club president Phil Rawlins and chairman John Bonner are set to tour Louisville next week to test the waters in terms of local support and potential investors.
“I’m sure there are other cities that would love to get the franchise, but I will say I’m the only other owner of the team – of Orlando City – that lives outside the Orlando area but in the US,” Estopinal told The Courier-Journal. “If you’re going to relocate the franchise, the fact that I’m here … provides some comfort.”
Orlando City officials declined to comment on the report when contacted by MLSsoccer.com.
It appears that the Lions may find some built-in support should they branch out into Bluegrass country. Taking a cue from success stories like the Sons of Ben in Philadelphia, Louisville-area soccer fans have already formed a supporters group called The Coopers – the name is a tribute to the barrels used in the area's bourbon industry – which apparently has upwards of 500 members already, many of whom have made preliminary pledges to buy season tickets for a future team.
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“We thought Louisville could do what a couple other cities have done,” said Taylor Sorrels, the club's president, “and that’s form a supporters group even though a club doesn’t exist yet to support professional soccer in whatever form it happens to present itself in Louisville.”
The Coopers are set to meet Rawlins and Bonner at a local pub on Tuesday.
Fans and executives alike have one substantial hurdle to negotiate right out of the gate: finding a suitable playing venue.
Estopinal says the identification of an existing 10- to 15,000-capacity stadium in Louisville is the goal, though the University of Louisville's powerhouse NCAA program is set to open an impressive new soccer-specific facility on campus this year with modern amenities and room for 5,300 spectators.
A number of past and present MLS players suited up for Louisville, including 2012 Rookie of the Year and Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry, D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon and New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell, who is a Louisville native.