Orlando City Soccer Club has quickly climbed up the popularity ranks in Major League Soccer (MLS) this past season, boasting over 30,000 fans per game on average, the second-highest in the league. This average beats out the likes of several already well-established MLS teams, and the number itself breaks records set by any other expansion teams.
Their attendance holds up to MLS giants such as the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders, who have dominated the league in popularity and success. The team was able to sign the legendary Brazilian superstar and Ballon d'Or recipient Ricardo Kaká, and they continue to be a name attached to very interesting transfer news, with the likes of former Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino and former Arsenal striker Julio Baptista joining as well.
With all of this happening over the course of one season in the MLS, it is only a matter of time before Orlando establishes itself as one of the best, if not the best, soccer city in the United States.
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Not only are the owners and players backing the team, but the following critical factors will propel Orlando City to MLS greatness in the years to come:
Orlando City started in the USL, or United Soccer League, before its ascension into the MLS. They quickly rose to popularity in that league, and after a few seasons and a few pieces of silverware, including three regular season titles and two postseason titles, Orlando City announced that they would leave the USL form an MLS team.
After taking both leagues by storm over a span of less than a decade, Orlando decided to keep its roots firmly planted in both leagues, announcing a B-Team that will begin play in the USL in 2016. This team, Orlando City B, will allow the team to feed players up and down through the two leagues, and build a solid foundation for its younger players. The team also has a youth and U-23 program to grow players from an early age.
Orlando City has been the quickest team in the MLS to see over half a million different fans to watch them, and with their already impressive attendance stats at the very large Citrus Bowl, Orlando's attendance at their new stadium planned for 2017 is sure to be through the roof. The stadium will have less than 30,000 seats, and their average attendance is already above 30,000.
This will make for a lot of competition to get into games,which is an even higher incentive to see the team play. On top of that, the team has already sold 18,000 season tickets for 2016, meaning that if the trend continues, the new stadium will likely be more than 75% full for every game.
In addition to the fans that pack the Citrus Bowl for every home game, the Central-Florida team will have a stadium in nearby Brevard County for Orlando City B (OCB) to play in for their regular season USL games. The stadium is shared with Eastern Florida State College, who were eager to participate in the team's growth.
With the combination of Orlando City's popularity around all of Central Florida and the intimate stadium of only 3,500 seats, the team's USL side will also be sure to see a packed stadium every game.
Orlando City's fans have been unwavering in their support, despite a poor run of results in the 2015 season. The team placed seventh in the Eastern Conference Standings and failed to clinch a playoff spot. However, this has not resulted in a spike in attendance, or in fan enthusiasm. There is always a large number of fans at each game to keep their average high, and a regularly packed dedicated supporters section that sings and cheers for the full 90 minutes.
Now, I know that I've already talked about the fan base's enthusiasm, but this is a different type of pride. I'm talking about the Orlando Pride, Orlando's newest addition to their soccer culture. The Orlando Pride is a women's team set to play in the 2016 NWSL season. With the signing of American superstar Alex Morgan, who is widely tipped to be the next Abby Wambach, and the signings of a very promising squad in general, the Orlando Pride are sure to be another success in Central Florida.
The NWSL season kicks off in April, and with the USL and MLS both starting their respective seasons this month, there is sure to be a plethora of options for soccer lovers in the American peninsula.
So, are you convinced? Does Orlando have what it takes to dominate the soccer landscape in the states? Have your say in the comments section below...