For the 2015 season, Toronto FC will have a new opponent in the south, Orlando City SC. Orlando have already made waves around the league by bringing in Brazilian superstar Kaka, adding to the excitement of MLS bringing in its latest team. As such, SB Nation will be bringing in an Orlando City blog called "The Mane Land". Michael Citro, the managing editor, provides us with some interesting details about the team.
1. What are the three most important things fans need to know about your club?
Probably the most important thing is that Orlando City is not the second coming of the Tampa Bay Mutiny or Miami Fusion. MLS clubs have failed in Florida before and people tend to think that the cycle is beginning again. It's a new era. MLS and soccer are more popular now. And Orlando City ownership has carefully studied the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers models on how to grow the club through fan affinity.
You really get a sense that this team belongs to the community and the city has embraced it. The club thinks it can sell 14,000 season tickets (the number at which they've capped ST sales) and sell out most games at a capacity of 19,500 (the future stadium's capacity) at the Citrus Bowl in 2015. The team president recently said his goal is to make Orlando the soccer capital of the south.
Second, this club likes to win and collect trophies. In its four seasons of USL Pro play, the Lions (the club's nickname) have taken the Commissioner's Cup (the equivalent of MLS's Supporters' Shield) three times and the club has captured the championship twice with exciting runs in the playoffs in 2011 and 2013. In 2011, Orlando City won both.
Third, the team has begun construction on a new downtown soccer-only stadium, which will be ready for play by 2016. Until then, the team will play in the newly renovated Citrus Bowl, and expects to sell out the lower bowl most games in 2015. Last year, the team played in the cramped Disney Wide World of Sports complex and attendance suffered. This is a team that was drawing about the same as Chivas USA in 2013, playing in a dead, cavernous building. I don't think you'll see Seattle II, but attendance shouldn't be an issue. This city embraced the team before it had an advertising budget.
2. What nicknames, chants and slang are unique to your club, and can you please explain them if they aren't readily apparent to the outsider?
Orlando City is nicknamed the Lions due to the three lions on the team's original badge, which is now a lone lion with the sun as its mane on the new MLS badge. We have a number of supporters' groups, but the two most recognizable are the Iron Lion Firm and The Ruckus. Many of the chants are pretty widely used throughout MLS, with local team names used but you can find some of them here (some are not safe for work).
3. If Orlando City fans venture into your city, which restaurants/bars/match day traditions/other attractions should not be missed?
Obviously Orlando has a lot to offer. Everyone knows about the Disney parks, Universal Orlando (although you must visit their new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions) and Sea World, with Lego Land just down I-4. Gatorland is an underrated place to visit.
Last season, Downtown Disney would have been the only semi-convenient match day hangout, with plenty of restaurant options. With the move back to the Citrus Bowl, there are some nice places downtown to start your pregame. There's not much near the Citrus Bowl itself, but downtown there's a nice area in the Wall Street Plaza off Orange Ave and another called Church Street Station. Both have several bars and eateries, such as Wall Street Cantina, Finnhenry's and Harry Buffalo. Lizzy McCormick's Irish Pub is soccer friendly and Gringos Locos is a good place to wolf down some Mexican food.
4. Who are the key players on your team we should know about?
We don't have a full roster yet, but Brazilian superstar Kaka is the club's first designated player. One of the world's most popular players, he is currently playing on loan with Sao Paulo FC in the Brazilian league right now and is reviving his career in a deeper midfield role. His form has been so good that he was recently recalled to the Brazilian national team at age 32, despite not being in the national picture for the next World Cup cycle.
A name to learn is Kevin Molino, a Trinidad and Tobago international who has been with the club since March of 2011. The 24-year-old was the first player signed to Orlando City's MLS roster. Last year, he was USL Pro MVP, leading the league in both goals (20) and assists (9), and broke Dom Dwyer's single-season goal-scoring record. Molino scored a hat trick and added an assist for T&T last week in a win over the Dominican Republic. "All he does is score goals" is our mantra for Kevin.
Luke Boden is a defender who has been part of the club's past and is making the jump to MLS. He was named to the USL Pro All-League first team for 2014. Midfielder Darwin Ceren is an El Salvador international and should play a big role for the club in 2015. Finally, Orlando City has some young, exciting, up-and-coming players such as teenage defenders Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner, and midfielder Estrela. Oh, and we recently acquired outstanding veteran goalkeeper Tally Hall from Houston, although it won't be official until the transfer window opens.
5. Which of our players do you hope to steal away in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft?
I haven't really done an in-depth analysis of Toronto FC yet, but Ashtone Morgan might be an interesting player to bring in to compete with Boden. Collen Warner, Bright Dike and Luke Moore might all be guys Adrian Heath can get to take their game to the next level. Can't we just have Gilberto? We have a thing for Brazilians, you know.