ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando City is omnipresent in Orlando, the city. With just a day to go until the Lions welcome New York City FC on Sunday for their season opener (5 pm ET, ESPN in the US | MLS Live in Canada), their purple presence looms large.
At Orlando International Airport, the automated messages that play on the baggage claim shuttle brag of the city’s growing professional sports scene. (That bragging of growth didn’t really happen when the Orlando Magic were the only real pro game in town.) Through the tourist drags around the locally dreaded International Drive, the occasional purple tote or shirt dots the crowds.
In random traffic, magnets of the club’s badge emblazon a vehicular range from beat-up pick-ups to high-end family wagons. And everywhere throughout downtown, the likes of Kaká and Cyle Larin – and, equally, players from the NWSL Orlando Pride – literally look down as you stroll by.
When I got into my hotel room just now to write this, on Friday night, the lobby bar’s TVs shone with Larin’s face, courtesy of the local news. That’s just one of the local news segments I’ve randomly caught here about the team. The first came on Thursday night, an advisory about downtown traffic – for the Orlando City Foundation-benefiting Kids vs. Pros game.
And, yes, people turned out for that, including devoted supporters who already gave their drums, and the new capo stands, a workout. We already know that Orlando loves its Lions, but there’s definitely a little extra oomph in the air. In their third season in MLS, the squad is really ripening. Everyone still loves the legendary Kaká, of course, but fans are equally cheering the rest of the team’s backbone. The spanking-new stadium doesn’t hurt, either.
OK, that’s an understatement. The combination of a burgeoning team, plus the start of the first full season with head coach Jason Kreis, plus the stadium? Now that’s a potent brew that’s got people happily tipsy.
So with that, check out this quick stadium tour I stitched together from Snapchat on Thursday night to see what some of the fuss is about. (You can follow the league Snapchat at @MLS, and mine at @ariellemeow.) Even the hardest domestic-soccer heart has to begrudgingly accept that, at the very least, the stadium’s new supporters’ section is a thing of beauty. We’re all just waiting to see it rocking on Sunday evening.