Orlando City fans go nuts
Courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City supporters welcome "homecoming" at revamped Citrus Bowl following stadium delay

ORLANDO, Fla. – The last time the Orlando City Soccer Club played a match in downtown Orlando, 20,886 fans packed into the lower bowl of the Florida Citrus Bowl for the USL PRO championship game.

And despite the fact that MLS-bound Orlando City will have to wait a bit longer to move into their own soccer-specific stadium, it’s that legacy that made the news that the Lions will play the entirety of their first pro season at the remodeled Citrus Bowl, which will be located just a mile down the road from their new venue, palatable for both the club and its supporters.

Initial plans already called for Orlando City’s 2015 season to be split between the two venues. It became less of a surprise to fans when an alternate plan was put in place with each day passing without breaking ground at the stadium site downtown.

“We always knew we were going to spend some time there at the new Citrus Bowl,” said Jared Ambrose, a director with Orlando City’s Iron Lion Firm supporters’ group. “Being able to spend a full year there again is something we’re looking forward to. The Citrus Bowl has been kind of like our home, it’s where we’ve been and all we’ve really known prior to this year. We’re going to treat 2015 like a bit of a homecoming for us.”

It’s also where the club won two USL PRO titles in three seasons. Orlando City press officer Jhamie Chin said the club has gotten a minimal amount of negative feedback regarding the stadium situation through its social media platforms.

Some of that support can almost certainly be attributed to the fact that the Citrus Bowl is in the midst of a $200 million facelift that includes a completely rebuilt lower bowl.

“Most of our fans love the Citrus Bowl,” Chin said. “It’ll be brand new and most won’t mind going back to the place where the team won those titles.”

A celebration of all the great Orlando City moments at the Citrus Bowl may be just what the club needs to energize its fan base. The Lions are playing their 2014 home games on the outskirts of town – 19 miles southwest of the Citrus Bowl – at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista.

The average attendance this season at Wide World of Sports is 4,877 fans per game, down from 8,053 in 2013. The Lions drew an average of 6,606 fans in 2012 and 6,021 during their inaugural year of 2011.

A grueling commute along oft-congested Interstate 4 may discourage some this season. But a move back downtown into a sparkling new venue and into the MLS ranks is sure to invigorate everyone from die-hard soccer fans – who have helped create and maintain supporter groups such as the Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm – to locals lending their support for the first time.

“It’s a complete microcosm of Orlando and America as a whole,” Ambrose said. “There is so much diversity among the Orlando City supporters. You can come to a match and see almost every flag from every nation you can imagine in a sea of purple. It’s beautiful because everyone gets together and supports, no matter what differences they may have.”

Orlando City typically market ther brand to the 18- to 35-year-old demographic, but it’s not uncommon to see both younger and older fans taking part in tailgating festivities before each match. Even with four full months of the USL PRO season still to be played, the club is already ramping up for next season.

Last week, Orlando City began offering fans the chance to secure seats for 2015 by way of $50 deposits and have also encouraged them to provide input on the stadium design. The incentives have already begun attracting some of the fans who choose take a pass on navigating traffic at times this season.

Much like the old baseball adage, Orlando City hope once their stadium is built, the fans will flock downtown to see them play.