Not only is 2016 an election year but it also looms large regarding soccer in Central Florida. Orlando City SC will begin its second MLS campaign on Sunday while the Orlando Pride and Orlando City B begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and United Soccer League (USL) respectively in the next six weeks.
The Orlando Pride have attracted particular fanfare for the acquisition of Alex Morgan, one of the most recognizable and popular female soccer players on the planet. Her move to Orlando helped stimulate rapid ticket sales and create a buzz around town about the new women’s team. Women’s professional soccer has struggled to gain a foothold in most markets, but Morgan’s presence gives the Orlando Pride a fighting chance for long-term success.
The She Believes Cup, a round-robin event with multiple women’s national teams and the Copa America Centenario, which draws together sixteen of the top men’s national teams from across the Americas, will have matches this year at the Citrus Bowl. Both events will be broadcast live nationally via Fox Sports various channels.
The main attraction locally is, of course, Orlando City SC and they kick off their second MLS season this Sunday. We will have a full look at the side later this week but today let’s take a look-back.
Last season, Orlando City SC enjoyed one of the best inaugural campaigns for an MLS team. Having spent the previous four seasons at the lower-division USL level, the club’s infrastructure was well-built and developed, and that helped lead to early success. The team finished 7th in the Eastern Conference, one spot away from qualifying for the playoffs. The club drew well, averaging close 33,000 fans a game which placed second in MLS behind perennial attendance champions Seattle. The team also performed well at either end of the season, suffering a dip in the middle of the year due in large part to injuries and national team call-ups. MLS’ unwillingness to break like most international soccer leagues do during major tournaments, in this case, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which featured five Orlando City players, led directly to the Lions worst stretch of the season.
Still by all indications, 2015 was a smashing success. Against this backdrop, you would expect an efficient offseason of consolidation and building. But, unfortunately, this winter had been anything but routine, with some high-profile departures included Executive Vice President Tim Holt, General Manager Paul McDonough and Assistant Coach Ian Fuller. All have taken similar roles with other professional soccer teams in the United States.
Thanks to this tumult and the addition of several new front office members including Armando Carneiro, who only lasted seven weeks on the job before leaving, the Lions did not make the type of players moves other MLS clubs were making until later in the offseason.
But the momentum from year one regarding local footprint and fan support remains. While many soccer die-hards were turned off by the drama of the offseason, most haven’t paid attention and could not care less. With this in mind, Orlando City SC looks once again to sell out its opener, this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl against Real Salt Lake.
We’ll have regular Orlando City SC coverage all season, beginning with our season preview later this week and regular features here at Orlando Rising.