By MIKE GRAMAJO
ORLANDO, Fla. — For the first time in more than a dozen years, Major League Soccer is coming back to the Sunshine State.
After much speculation, MLS commissioner Don Garber officially welcomed Orlando City SC as the league’s 21st franchise on Tuesday.
The Lions will begin play in the 2015 MLS season.
“The dream is now a reality,” said Orlando City President Phil Rawlins. “I’m excited. It’s [the] realization of a dream since we wanted to bring a major league soccer team to Orlando, and tonight is history.”
After facing obstacles earlier in the year, Orlando’s path to MLS cleared up when Orange County leaders recently completed a deal to fund a downtown soccer stadium.
“This moment is priceless,” said Orlando City majority owner Flavio Augusto Da Silva. “We have the support of a large fan base, and there is more to come, I can promise that.
“I’m going to Europe on Thursday, [to see a] very well known [player], and he will be part of the 2015 MLS team. The move to MLS was fast, and the supporters are the reason why.”
The transition to MLS will include a minor change to the logo and the acquisition of Adidas uniforms, Rawlins told reporters after the event. The team name and color will remain unchanged.
Rawlins also indicated much of 2014 will be dedicated to securing the team’s first Designated Player.
On the stadium front, majority owner Flavio Augusto Da Silva told reporters the team will play in a renovated Citrus Bowl for the first part of the 2015 MLS season before moving into its new stadium.
Since debuting on the central Florida scene in 2010, Orlando has won two USL Pro championships, drawing more than 20,000 for the championship game in September.
“This is the perfect time,” said Garber. “I can guarantee that this city will be proud of the players and team. It’s good to be back in Florida, and those skeptics don’t exist because if you don’t accept soccer then you need to get with the future. I have no time for the skeptics.”
Garber told reporters that the league will be working with Orlando City in preparations for 2015.
“I knew this was possible, and tonight we just enjoyed it,” said Rawlins.