Soccer is rising in popularity all across the country, and Florida is no exception. A poll conducted by ESPN this year found that among males in their twenties, soccer has tied with baseball become the second most popular sport in this demographic. Only basketball ranks higher. With these men, soccer is more popular than football, both college and NFL varieties. Major League Soccer (MLS), the professional soccer league in the United States, has taken notice and has moved swiftly to capitalize on this popularity. Orlando City Soccer Club has been chosen to enter the MLS from the third-tier USL Pro as a new expansion team that will start playing next year. It will be the only MLS team in Florida until Miami’s team (partially owned by David Beckham) is ready to play in 2017.
It was a natural choice on many levels for Orlando City Soccer Club to be upgraded to the top tier in professional soccer. After all, they have won two USL Pro regular season titles, two postseason championships, and they are shaping up to end their current season next month placing well. As of press time, they are leading in the USL Pro standings with 15 wins and just one loss.
They’ve made thousands of fans as well. The Orlando area has embraced the soccer team in the four years since it was founded; this year alone, over 30,000 people have watched the team play via watch parties at Downtown Orlando’s Wall Street Plaza. 7,500 people bought MLS season tickets, valid all next year, during the team’s promotional push coinciding with this year’s World Cup. Over 11,000 people came out to greet Kaká, Orlando City Soccer Club’s first player signed to start with the first MLS season. A Brazilian midfielder who played on his national team in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Kaká is sure to be a standout player when Orlando City makes its MLS debut.
With Orlando City Soccer Club moving into the MLS, a new soccer stadium is needed to accommodate larger crowds. Currently the team plays at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, but the City of Orlando will be building a new stadium in the Parramore district, bordering Church Street in the area between Downtown Orlando and John Young Parkway. Ground will be broken sometime this autumn, and in the meantime, Orlando City Soccer’s first Major League Soccer season will be played at the renovated Citrus Bowl.
The Orlando City Soccer Club also wants to give back to the community and treat all residents of Orlando with dignity and respect. For example, the Club operates a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called the Orlando City Foundation, which donates money and resources to service organizations dedicated to enriching the lives of impoverished and/or at-risk children and families in Orlando. The Orlando City Foundation spends most of its time helping three specific organizations: the Parramore Kidz Zone, which promotes safe, after-school activities for children; Healthy Families Orange, in which parents are counseled on how to keep their young children healthy and thriving; and the Summer of Dreams, which gives homeless children a summer of learning, fun and hope in a safe and stable environment.
The LGBT community is of particular importance to Orlando City Soccer Club president Phil Rawlins. Originally from the United Kingdom, Rawlins has always been a supporter of LGBT rights and equality in Florida. Orlando City is a member of MBA Orlando, the city’s LGBT Chmber of Commerce, and Rawlins has been heavily involved with the organization, recognized by them during their 2014 Pride in Business Awards as an “outstanding community champion.” Among his many overtures toward the LGBT community, he has ensured that the code of conduct while in the stadium explicitly bans boorish chants or bullying based on sexual orientation, and anyone interested in applying for a job with the team can rest assured that discrimination based on sexual orientation in the hiring process and in the workplace is also banned.
The Orlando City Soccer Club is looking forward to welcoming all of you to the Citrus Bowl in just seven short months for their Major League Soccer Debut!
The Orlando City Soccer Club’s presenting sponsor is Orlando Health. To buy season tickets for 2015, visit orlandocitysc.com/2015. For the box office, call (855) ORL-CITY (675-2489). “Like” the team on facebook for up to the minute updates by going to facebook.com/orlandocitysc. Follow them on twitter as well @orlandocitysc.