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MLS awards Orlando City 21st franchise; will begin play in 2015

Phi Rawlins Don Garber Orlando City (Orlando City)

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.

62 comments
  • BSU SC

    Congrats, Orlando! You deserve this! Great atmosphere at the announcement ceremony!

    Miami, you’re now on the clock…

    Like

      • Camjam

        I think you win, because I believe the announced plan is for it to be ready late-summer 2015. Talk about a safe bet. Then again, with the boys on the line, probably a good choice.

        Like

      • Turgid Jacobian

        wikipedia says that in the 2013 season, attendance…
        peaked at 20886 (championship game)
        averaged 8053
        troughed at 6187

        So they have a respectable crowd. Question is how much crap they buy and how much they’d watch on tv.

        Like

      • midwest ref

        On promotional items; my family vacationed in Orlando in June – my daughters who don’t like soccer wanted orlando City USL jerseys (they are a cool purple). If the MLS franchise can get just a few families to cross from the Disney side to the Citrus Bowl side of Orlando, they will do just fine.

        Like

      • Rory

        Huge soccer fan here… But no way am I going to fit a game into an Orlando vacation. Just not possible.

        Like

      • Ian

        Gotta agree here. I love soccer and I also just got back from a week in Orlando with my family (including my 3 & 5 year-old nephews), and there weren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze in a soccer match. It comes down to priorities, though. I suppose if some soccer-mad family (perhaps from across the pond?) wanted to make it work, they could.

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      • midwest ref

        We didn’t go to a game either – we paid the magic mouse way too much money.
        My daughters just liked the purple OC jerseys

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      • Ian

        For comparison, Seattle’s A-League/USL attendance averaged 3,359 between 1994 and 2008, with the highest at 6,347 in ’94 and the lowest at 1,885 in 2001.

        And look at Seattle now.

        Like

    • Eugene

      I bet Orlando, I don’t think their pockets are as deep as the potential Miami ownership group, which the way it’s looking between Beckham, Marcelo Claure, Simon Fuller, and Lebron, would be extremely well funded.

      Even though Da Silva of Orlando has money, I think he’s relatively less wealthy than most of the other MLS owners… anyone know if that’s true?

      Like

  • Kevin

    Congrats to Orlando. They’ve done a great job supporting their USL PRO club.

    That said, I’m concerned that MLS is expanding too quickly. The dilution of talent is not going to help the quality of soccer being played.

    Like

    • Jay

      Really? Can we stop with the dilution of talent. There are millions of players all over the world. MLS will just have to open the purse strings and bring in better talent.

      Like

      • marymotherofjesus

        Amen. Open them purse strings. MLS will now just have to work harder ay getting good ratings and related tv contracts

        Like

      • go euro or go home

        which is one of the key reasons for expansion. mls actually needs to expand in order to increase the talent pool, which should help override Kevin’s fears

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      • wandmdave

        EXACTLY. There might be an initial dilution but we need national coverage to ensure we are developing all our talent. It is very much worth it in the long run. Every time Nicol dumps on the expansion on ESPN FC I just want to shake him. Not to mention tell him that if Scotland, a country smaller than Maine, can handle a 10 team top division then the US can certainly handle more than 16 teams.

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      • Eugene

        I think it’s a valid point. While there is tons of talent around the world that could be brought here, there isn’t enough American talent on MLS level, particularly as the league expands. Which probably means that each team is going to be fielding and starting more non-American players.

        Like

    • Mysterious J

      Agreed. The fact that we barely had 16 legit teams in the league this year makes me worry that the product might suffer a wee bit when we have 21 teams 15 months from now.

      Like

  • Coco

    a franchise soccer league will never work in America. Should have developed community based clubs and worked on filling out the soccer pyramid.

    more people are watching the WNBA on TV than franchise soccer.

    Like

    • Jay

      I would go into why your points are stupid instead I’ll give you the simple answer. MLS unlike almost every other sport in this country lacks the best players in the world. Even the WNBA has the best players. When MLS can afford the best players then it’s popularity will increase. Stop talking Euro centric they have their way we have ours.

      Like

      • P

        Jay, it’s not about affording the best players in the world. Nations all over the globe have intense and meaningful games every week because there is something on the line – promotion/relegation. Youth development has real urgency because the life and competitive level of the club depend on developing players for the first team or for sale.

        It’s not “Eurocentric,” it is simply the reality that MLS offers a product that is structured to provide mediocrity (MLS would use the word parody). Mediocre soccer with nothing riding on it makes games meaningless and impedes popularity. There are lots of soccer fans in the US. They just don’t want to waste their time on an inferior product when there is easy access to a better product.

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      • Eugene

        There is access to a better product on TV, but not reasonably in person. If I want to experience a soccer game as a fan in the NY-metro area, my choices are either watching it on TV or going to a game in person. I may get prettier, better soccer on TV, but I won’t get the great gameday experience I get by going to the stadium and watching it in person. That’s why I prefer MLS over other leagues — because it’s local and it’s good enough.

        Like

      • Steve

        Having pro/reg isn’t what makes the sport popular around the world. Other sports in those countries (basketball, hockey…) have pro/reg. Why aren’t those sports more popular? Why is the NBA popular in Europe/Asia.

        MLS is a niche in America growing its fanbase is not going to be deternined by the lack of pro/reg.

        Like

      • P

        Have you ever been to a Charlotte Eagles, Rochester Rhinos, or even a Detroit FC game? You’re seriously arguing that if these “lower level” teams had the opportunity to play their way into the MLS it would have no impact on the product these clubs could put on the field and the growth in popularity? There area clubs already killing it in their markets that would just explode if the system encouraged competition and investment, which ultimately impacts the national standard.

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      • P

        “Other sports in those countries (basketball, hockey…) have pro/reg. Why aren’t those sports more popular?”

        That’s my point. Without that setup (pro/rel) those sports would be even less popular. They’ve created a bigger market and made themselves more competitive because of pro/rel.

        Soccer may well continue being a niche sport compared to the established American sports, but pro/rel develops what is a niche sport here into a more competitive international product.

        Like

      • CeezNYRB

        Oh stop it already. Seriously. You pro/rel people are getting ridiculous. Seems to me like you all just talk out of your a$$ses instead of thinking through what you are proposing.

        The other leagues in the world have been built up over time and have tradition built into the leagues and teams. These traditions date back to as far back as the 1850’s/1860’s. MLS was started FROM SCRATCH in 1996!!

        There is nothing here for an investor to look at and decide he or she thinks it’s a good idea to invest millions of dollars into a franchise which might get relegated that very first season.

        Just stop with all of this pro/rel nonsense. It’s stupid! It’s not going to happen for AT LEAST another 40-50 years, if at all. Period.

        Like

      • Neal

        MLS would probably term its competitiveness as “Parity,” not “parody.”
        Unless of course that was a higher level of sarcasm, in which case, it flew way over my head…

        Like

      • Jay

        Really just because some things on the line people watch? So why is the NFL, NBA, NCAAB so popular, hell baseball is popular and their seasons last all year. If you had Ronaldo and Messi and others like them playing here you’re not watching because they can’t get relegated? A) If you say yes your lying. B) Yes you would watch because they are the best. As for fans in this country they want to see the best period with or without relegation.

        Like

    • Quit whining about soccer in the US

      You gotta love a guy that isn’t smart enough to realize a very successful guy just invested 10s of millions of dollars to take the opposite side of his free whining blog post.

      Like

      • P

        If I could buy my way into a closed market, single entity organization, which structures its rules to minimize competitiveness and maximize my profits, despite the results attained by my on-field product, I too would jump at the chance to invest. Oh, and by the way, this entity is in bed with the national federation of the sport and will be subject to zero government scrutiny.

        Like

      • Eugene

        Half of the clubs in MLS aren’t profitable this season, and some of the other ones aren’t breaking even. It’s not really a case of maximizing profit from a business sense. In fact, the return on investment for one of these franchises is probably pretty poor. If you want to invest in something, you can probably find a much better place to put $25 million if you’re looking for returns. And there is nothing in this country that is completely free from zero government scrutiny. Everything here gets government scrutiny, particularly if it gets publicity in the newspapers.

        Like

      • Quit whining about soccer in the US

        I don’ believe that 1/2 of the teams are unprofitable, the numbers don’t add up.

        Every team in the NBA has been losing money for 4 decades now.

        Like

      • Jay

        So you think teams like the Heat and Lakers are losing money? You sir are misinformed lol.

        Like

      • Quit whining about soccer in the US

        Eugene $25 million. Where are you living, 2000 ?
        There is no way the entry fee is still $25 million.

        Is that just a number you picked out so your return on a MLS franchise didn’t contradict you statement of a bad investment ?

        Like

      • Eugene

        Beckham’s option is for a $25 million fee, I think Orlando may have paid like $40 million, I can google around for the number again, but it’s well short of the $100 million paid by NYCFC. But if the number goes UP, considering these businesses are years from profitability, the returns get worse, not better. I don’t know how I could “cherry pick” a number, as you imply, considering I never stated a percentage return number, nor did I run a calculation. But if many teams aren’t profitable for many years, the implication is poor returns.

        Like

  • DC Josh

    Expansion is great and all, but the league will be watered down due to a weak reserve league/academies. Time to take all those millions and invest them back in the league.

    Like

  • Josh

    Congrats to Orlando. Really surprised to see how established their team and fan base already is, which makes me think, is it me, or does NYCFC seem a little behind given the fact they were awarded a team first? I mean the only thing we really know about it is that Man City and the Yankees are owners. Other than that, we don’t know their plans. Where are they playing? What are their colors? Who is their coach?

    Like

    • Soccerhorn

      Orlando wears purple. That will be a first for the MLS. Their kits are generally pretty nice. Their mascot is the Lion.

      NYCFC has made no announcements on their uniforms. For that matter, they’ve made no announcements on where they will play, who will be their coach, who will run their front office, or anything else. Basically all they did was show up and say “we own Man City. We’re the richest mofo’s in the entire sporting world. One of us is a freaking SHEIK. Like, with oil and stuff.” And Garber threw a franchise at them.

      Laugh all you want about small market Orlando, but they are working their ______ off to put a good product in a good stadium with a strong fan base in a timely manner. If you want to worry, it’s NYCFC that you should be looking at. They’ve done NOTHING so far and they’re supposed to be in the league in about 15 months. Dubious.

      Like

  • Quit whining about soccer in the US

    Too obvious.

    The first piece they “signed” was keeping Sigi….right or wrong.
    Ozzie would always be the second piece, unless you want to lose every game next year.

    Anyone thinking that EJ was the second piece…what the heck are you thinking ?

    Like

    • Quit whining about soccer in the US

      Well not sure how my browser skipped over here, sorry, will post in the correct spot now ?

      Like

  • Pingback: Garber confirms MLS interest in Miami | Soccer By Ives

  • Sam

    That expansion draft is going to HURT with NYCFC and OCSC coming in.

    This is good news, but I don’t like the idea of Beckham’s Miami coming in (though the MLS Insider segment on the Fusion and their coach was just lovely). Surely they can try elsewhere? St. Louis? Nashville/Memphis? New Orleans? Atlanta? Charlotte? Vegas? Phoenix? Detroit? Minneapolis? Pittsburgh?

    That said, I second whoever on twitter suggested we nickname them “the Epcots.”

    Like

  • Ed

    I am thrilled that Orlando gets an MLS team and in downtown as I have family there. Of course this trend of adding new teams so quickly is of concern on two fronts. One is the quality of the players we will end up with and the other more on the financial side of things. Does MLS keep themselves afloat(in business) by cashing in on new franchises fees ?…….what will happen when they reach 24 teams and the big payday ends. The NASL had at one point like 32 teams just to see them down to 6 in a few years after that, and the rest was history.

    Like

    • Jay

      First off you don’t limit your investors. That’s like having a hot stock and telling people nah we don’t want you to buy in. Any CEO would be fired for doing that. MLS is a hot stock right now let people buy. As for talent I will continue to say talent goes where the money is. If MLS can pay they will get better talent. Remember just because England pays the most doesn’t mean that English players get paid the most. Money rises the boat of talent but it may not be American talent the English deal with it so can we.

      Like

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