Orlando City SC’s MLS debut through eyes of a fan


Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

Over 62,000 fans filled the Citrus Bowl for Orlando City’s MLS debut.

The Citrus Bowl was packed on Sunday, March 8, as 62,510 people gathered  to watch Orlando City SC, the soccer team of Orlando, play their first game in Major League Soccer. The attendance just barely squeaked higher than that of the Netherlands-Belgium World Cup in 1994 at 62,387, and placed it at the second for the most attended MLS debut ever played.

The Citrus Bowl — current temporary home to the Lions as their new stadium is built — had been completely redesigned. Covered in purple banners and flags, all signs cycling through countless Orlando City logos, so many changes that one would never think we were only there until 2016.

Taking it all in was difficult, for fans and players. With the exception of headliner and team captain Ricardo Kaká and perhaps a few other members of the team, most had not played in front of such crowds, and certainly nobody in the stands had ever attended a Lion’s game with such attendance.

This was a World Cup-level crowd. Every single seat filled, and people standing where they could, drums echoing through the stadium courtesy of the supporter group known as The Ruckus. It was hard not to look at the mass of people without a bit of awe.

The seats were comfortable, the day was sunny, and the game tremendous. There were chants both safe to repeat at will and those too profane. Along with the encouraging chants that went rumbling through the stadium came angry shouts at the referee as a few calls went against the home team. Most people took the provided fliers and made airplanes with them, turning the stadium into a bit of a hazardous airspace.

The crowd never lulled, either. An hour and a half in, nobody showed any signs of tiring, save the twenty-one on the field, the Lions having lost a defender to a red card dismissal on account of a hasty and reckless challenge. If anything, it reinvigorated the crowd. Shortly before the dismissal had come a goal courtesy of New York City’s Mix Deskerud, putting the home side behind.

A goal down, a man down, less than fifteen minutes ticking down on the clock. . . it was easy to think that Orlando City’s historic record-breaking home MLS debut that had been hyped up for years was going to end in disappointment.

And even knowing that, the drums continued on, the chants rang through, and the crowd cheered every pass and tackle performed. The commentators couldn’t be heard by those in the crowd, but it was said by them and later mentioned on many soccer forums that the supporting home fans were one of the liveliest, most active, and of course, loudest supporting masses around.

At the 90th minute, the game had four minutes added on. Most people didn’t want those minutes to end, as the match was so greatly anticipated with a score so greatly disappointing. But with three minutes left, a free kick from the famous Kaká struck the back of the net and rescued the Lions from defeat.

The crowd noise reached peak levels then, as one would expect them to. The last three minutes were spent singing and jumping, confetti falling from the sky onto the field and crowd as streamers went everywhere. The whistle came shortly after, but even with the game over, many fans stayed and continued chanting and dancing.

Orlando City’s long-awaited debut had come, and though the following games wouldn’t reach over 60,000 people, The Lions had already left their mark in a single match.