Despite MLS focus on NYC, Orlando City still confident of expansion chances

Despite MLS focus on NYC, Orlando City still confident of expansion chances

USL

Despite MLS focus on NYC, Orlando City still confident of expansion chances

By FRANCO PANIZO

Even if the New York City market lands a second MLS team in the near future, the league will not be stopping at 20 teams.

That is the belief of Orlando City owner Phil Rawlins, whose club is also considered one of the favorites to enter MLS in the coming years. MLS has not been shy in recent months of its desire to secure a stadium deal in Queens for a second New York team for the league, leaving many fans and pundits across the nation to believe that Orlando will have to wait some time before joining MLS.

Rawlins, however, does not see it that way.

“Certainly no conversation that we’ve had with Major League Soccer have they said they’ll stop at 20,” Rawlins told SBI. “Not quite sure where that comes from, but certainly in the dialogues we’ve had, that’s not ever been a factor.

“The league is rightfully focused on New York and they’ve been very focused on it and it’s a priority for them and they’ll go ahead with that. They’re working very, very hard to get that second team and the stadium built. But as we all know, there’s a lot of work to do on that. It’s a big project, it’s got a lot of angles to it and a lot of entities to it that are going to be taken care of, so the timescale is difficult to find and difficult to pin down.”

For now, the USL Pro club is continuing its own pursuit of a soccer-specific stadium deal. Rawlins revealed last week in Orlando City’s second fan forum that the club is currently deep into the process of landing a deal for construction of an 18,000-seat stadium and the Lions even released artist renderings of what their potential home could look like.

“We’ve been working for nine months with the city and county and the last few weeks with the governor’s office as well to get this done,” said Rawlins. “We are getting very, very close. We’ve got commissioners from the city, we’re in deep dialogue with the county. I would say in the next four to six months we should be able to make an announcement about the stadium, the funding plan for the stadium and how and where it will be built.”

Orlando City may seem a bit ambitious in its efforts to get a deal done so quickly, but that has been the club’s MO since joining USL Pro in 2011. That said, Rawlins is realistic enough to admit that the project may fall behind the desired timeframe of 2015.

“It’s a date we’ve got pinned to the wall in the office, it’s a date that I keep all the staff focused on. We’ll run at March 2015 as long and hard as we can,” said Rawlins. “We know it’s a tight timescale, we know it’s difficult, it’s not without its difficulties. But as long as we stay focused on it, we’ve got every chance of achieving it.”

Regardless of if the club reaches its goal of 2015, Rawlins believes Orlando City will be in MLS by no later than 2016, no matter what happens in New York.

“We’ll just focus on what we’ve got to do on our end,” said Rawlins. “We know what we’ve got to do, which is get a stadium plan funded. Once we get that done, we’ll be knocking on the door of MLS to put our case for being that 20th or 21st or 22nd franchise, whichever it is.

“But I don’t see it and never have seen the New York franchise and the Orlando franchise in any way being connected. The MLS has given us the clearest indication all along that if we do the things that we need to do, that we have a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous chance of joining MLS.”

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