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Orlando City begins MLS journey with special day at Citrus Bowl

Orlando City fans

Photo by Kim Klement/USA Today Sports


ORLANDO, Fla. — Fourteen years after leaving Florida, MLS saw Orlando City bring first-division soccer back to the Sunshine State with a special day that not many could have predicted.

Orlando City officially started its MLS journey in incredible and memorable fashion on Sunday, as a purple-clad crowd of 62,510 fans filed into the Citrus Bowl to watch the Lions take on New York City FC. That the game between the two expansion clubs ended in a 1-1 draw following a dramatic free kick goal from Kaka was overshadowed in many ways by the support Orlando received, as thousands of local fans arrived early and loudly to the renovated stadium to show their passion and pride.

From attending tailgates to riding pedal pubs to playing FIFA 15, Orlando City’s faithful had a number of activities from which to enjoy. It all made for a fun and rocking atmosphere hours before kickoff, one that carried over into a game that has been the talk of the town for much of the past week.

“Even in England and with the international games, that’s one of the best I’ve been in,” said left back Brek Shea. “An amazing crowd, to see all that purple and people screaming. For a team that hasn’t even played one minute (in MLS) yet until today, for that many people to come out and support us is unreal.”

As the hordes of people filed into the Citrus Bowl, comparisons to Seattle began. The Sounders have routinely drawn north of 50,000 fans since their inception, but not even the Pacific Northwest city that many view as the soccer capital of the United States pulled in that many people for its inaugural match,

Whatever the reason, Orlando City fans dawning the various shades of purple turned up. Some wore scarves, others jerseys and hats. What started as a dream a few years ago had now become a reality.

“It was something to see before the game when we came out, and it’s something I’ll remember for an awful long time,” said Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath.

Added centerback Aurelien Collin: “I’ve played (in front of) more people than this, but this was one of the best atmospheres I had in my life.”

Even MLS commissioner Don Garber could not hide his excitement. Garber, who has been at the forefront of MLS’s impressive expansion efforts, had a noticeable glow while talking about Orlando City. The support the club drummed up was nothing like he could have ever imagined, especially not in 2001 when the decision was made to contract both Florida MLS clubs, the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny.

“It really gives you a bounce in your step after so many years to see 62,000 people here,” said Garber. “I was told by the owner they thought they could’ve had (80,000) if they had enough seats, so that’s pretty cool.

“We’ve got something special going on here.”

That was evident throughout the 90 minutes in Orlando. While the match between the Lions and NYCFC was far from pretty, the same could not be said about the environment. Fans cheered hard for their club, with a giant tifo claiming superiority over the other Florida clubs unfurled, a dozen or more flags waving through the air, and set pieces being clapped for with a unity that would make even the best synchronized swimmers jealous.

Even when NYCFC took the lead, Orlando’s supporters remained determined. Then, after Kaka lined up the 91st-minute free kick that crashed off of Jeb Brovsky and rerouted towards goal, the crowd went into a frenzy that punctuated a remarkable and special day for both the club and its fans.

“For me, scoring the goal was special. I’ve scored a lot of goals in my career, but I have to say this is one of the most emotional ones I’ve ever scored,” said Kaka. “I was able to achieve that, scoring the first MLS goal for this club was and I was able to help my teammates and my club. The support from the fans was fantastic. Seeing this stadium full like this, with all the people – Americans, Latinos, Brazilians, all types – participating in this game for Orlando City, I think we’re going to do a lot of good things for this club.”

Orlando’s first chapter in MLS has been written, with a special atmosphere highlighting a special day for both the club and its fans.


  1. so the tifo; the Lion stepping over the bones of the existing D2 Florida teams.. interesting! big middle finger to those that they leapfrog-ed?

    Florida region is going to be interesting during the Open Cup!

      • L to R: Jacksonville Armada, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

        There’s a video on YouTube of them making it: “Orlando City Inaugural Tifo”

      • Lol – so they’re going to dis my hometown team, and then constantly send me emails asking me to come to Orlando to support Orlando City. Uh, no thanks.

  2. I’m trying to remember a game with as many cards given for simulation / embellishment. Was that a record? Not commenting on whether the ref was correct in every instance, just that it was such an issue for OC, and it’s hard to remember any other game or team with that many situations.

    • I wonder if that’s a “point of emphasis” this season for the referees. I was surprised to see it called so often too, although with instant replay it looked like he made the right calls.

      • Good point re. “point of emphasis”. In this game only OC was getting called for it. Any other MLS games this weekend where it was called a ton? It’s a good point of emphasis, if that’s what it is, so that MLS players know that form of cheating wont be tolerated.

  3. @jamie. The weather was mid 70s. It was a really beautiful day… Probably one of our last ones too. In the summer it can hit up to the mid 90s with high humidity and afternoon showers almost guaranteed around the 4-6 o’clock mark. Hopefully our players will be more acclimated to the weather when other teams visit.

    • Yeah, I was thinking that this could either be a great home field advantage, or it could be something that really kills the team by playing so many games on that turf.

    • Yes, it’s going to get really bad this summer. And that artificial turf is going to be extremely hot. I’ve played on that type of turf in Florida in summer and I’ve seen people with really bad burns/blisters on their feet after games. It feels about 10-15 degrees hotter on that turf than on grass – it gets hard to breathe. If they don’t have a lot of depth it’s going to lead to some heavy legs and sloppy play in the 2nd half of the season.

      • ouch. personally id prefer playing in sub 40 degree than over 100; esp when you throw turf into the situation. hope they have a nice long roadtrip planned in June-August.

      • Why would they install turf in a newly renovated stadium located in an optimum climate for a beautiful grass pitch? In my view, it’s the only drawback I can see to the otherwise ideal situation for Orlando City. It’s a sad trend that american football has started to prefer this surface and now we pay the price because it’s an easy choice for stadium board decision makers who wanna save a few bucks on operating costs. FIFA approving the artificial surfaces hasn’t helped either. The bounces just look so un-natural.

      • the Citrus Bowl is a temp stadium, they are building a grass soccer-specific stadium…

  4. I have to say, I was really impressed with Kaka’s work-rate… He was everywhere, whether when the ball was moving, or just in the middle of a mess on top of the box. I don’t know whether that was enthusiasm or just the feeling that he had to do everything, but he looks all-in. David Villa looked less engaged, but you can’t take the assist away. Fun game.

  5. Added centerback Aurelien Collin: “I’ve played (in front of) more people than this”

    Have you really? I’m not so sure looking at his club history haha… All joking aside, that was an impressive crowd. I was shocked when I flipped the TV to ESPN and saw that many people. Good job, hope they can keep it up!!

  6. Really impressed with the turnout and passion displayed by everyone (coach, owner and supporter groups). I’m sure it’ll make NYCFC’s home opener look like a joke on any number of fronts.

    • “It really gives you a bounce in your step after so many years to see 62,000 people here,” said Garber. “I was told by the owner they thought they could’ve had (80,000) if they had enough seats, so that’s pretty cool.

      “We’ve got something special going on here.”

      Amazing what you can cultivate when you actually expand with an established base, isn’t it, Don?

      • I live in Florida but I have to admit that I agree with you. Sacramento deserves it far more than Miami – they really haven’t done anything to show that they deserve a team, while the fans in Sacramento have exceeded expectations. I was a little surprised that San Antonio’s fan support has dropped off a bit. They won the NASL championship last season in their stadium and it wasn’t even a sellout.

      • Only Old School can turn a great moment for the league into a bitter tirade against the league. You’re a bitter, angry man, Old School.

      • Rose colored glasses affect your vision after awhile. Please proceed with caution in their usage.

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