From Austin to Central Florida: The Orlando City story


Ty Wright / Valencia Voice

Orlando City will make their MLS debut on Sunday, March 8 at the Citrus Bowl.

The story of how someone got somewhere always tends to have a unique journey attached to it. And Orlando City’s journey is no exception once they kick the ball for the very first time in Major League Soccer on Sunday.

Back track five years ago when Orlando City President Phil Rawlins announced plans on bringing professional soccer to the City Beautiful. Of course, soccer in Orlando wasn’t really something unheard of.

After all, Orlando did house an amateur – semi-pro – team in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s when the original Orlando Lions roamed the Citrus Bowl.

But it was Rawlins’ belief of bringing something major, as well historic, that made the beginning of the journey stand out. From Rawlins, there was a sacrifice. Leaving Austin, Texas where he owned the Austin Aztex, and starting from scratch.

And starting from scratch wasn’t all that bad. Adrian Heath, who managed the Aztex, came along with the simple fact that he believed in Rawlin’s dream. Fast forward to 2011 when Orlando City Soccer Club or the Orlando City Lions made their professional debut in the USL PRO.

It was that second step that began stirring the MLS pot. And it didn’t fail to disappoint. Not only did Orlando City win the regular season championship that year, their inaugural season, but also clinched the league title in front of a then-record of 11,220 fans at the Citrus Bowl. The dream of Orlando City being in MLS started seeing some clarity.

With 2011 in the rear view mirror, 2012 was a promising one for Orlando City fans. MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited Orlando where he made it clear, “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” MLS will arrive back to Florida.

After 2012 finished with another set of silverware in Orlando City’s trophy cabinet, 2013 was the nail in the coffin type year for the Lions – on and off the field. The emergence of Dom Dwyer and his acrobatic goal-scoring celebrations lit up the Citrus Bowl, which catapulted Orlando City to a second USL PRO title, this time however in front of 20,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl.

The Central Florida region itself saw a growth in soccer where it also established itself as the Soccer Capital of South when Orlando hosted the United States Women’s National Team in October 2013. The year wasn’t finished just yet as the following month came a “Major Announcement” in Downtown Orlando. That announcement was the beginning of a new era. A new story. And most importantly, the end and the beginning of a new journey in Orlando City’s history.

2014 marked the ending of Orlando City’s journey in the USL PRO, but it marked the transition age into Major League Soccer. The team finished as regular season champions for the third time in four years. And in the MLS front, former FIFA World Player of the Year, Kaka, finally made his move to the Purple Kits.

With close to 14,000 season tickets sold and a sold-out Citrus Bowl ready for Sunday, it’s easy to say, Orlando City finally made it. The big dance that is. And a new book will be written come Sunday.