ORLANDO, Fla. – There are 15 soccer-specific stadiums in the league, and 11 of those have been created in the past 10 years. That means Orlando City SC’s new venue, Orlando City Stadium, is only one in quite a crowd.
However, it is the first all-new ground since San Jose’s Avaya Stadium in 2015, and it has been generating some serious buzz for its soccer feel-good factor – and the fact it is starting to represent a significant home advantage for the Lions.
But what makes the difference? What sets Orlando's new home ground apart? Orlando’s more experienced coaches and players think they have the answer.
Midfielder Luis Gil may be the newest player to experience ‘The Orlando Effect,’ but, after five seasons with Real Salt Lake then a season-and-a-half in Mexico, he is quick to point to the stadium’s tight configuration as a key element in what makes it special.
“It feels like everyone is on top of you, like it is really closed in,” he said after training on Wednesday. “And it gets that feeling inside you that you want to be out there and you want to work harder. The fans are just so loud throughout the whole game – they pump you up. You make certain plays, and the crowd goes wild, and it really gets you going.”
For former Chivas USA and Montreal stalwart Donny Toia, it is the massive safe-standing section of "The Wall'' behind the north goal.
“The biggest thing is 'The Wall,'” he insisted. “It makes people much louder and crazier. The fact they’re standing the whole time means they are on their toes, enjoying it as much as possible. It makes the atmosphere that much better. But the stadium all around is gorgeous. It is a LOT of purple, but it looks beautiful. The field is great and then the atmosphere that the fans bring, it’s incredible.
“It also feels like home. They make it as easy as possible to walk in and relax, to be comfortable and ready to play the game. From walking in to the stadium, going to the locker, you have your own space and can do your own thing, and you enjoy every moment of it. And then, on the field, that’s where all the magic happens.”
Head coach Jason Kreis believes it is a combination of factors. “The stadium is the right size for soccer; the field being grass and the fans being right on top of everything; the way it was designed to hold the noise in – as well as, of course, the fan support – all those things add up to a lot,” he said.
“I think it’s absolutely special, and it’s one of the main reasons I came here. It is a special ownership group, a special community and a special fan base. And now we have a special stadium. You add up all those things and you have what we’ve seen so far.”
It was left to one of the youngest players on the roster, however, 20-year- old defender Tommy Redding, to describe just what it means to be a City player walking out in the new arena.
“For me, growing up in Orlando, to see soccer evolve here and be a part of it is just amazing,” he explained. “There are other great stadiums in this league, but this one really hits home for me because I’ve lived here, so this is really big for me.”