MLS commissioner visits Orlando

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Fred Lambert / Valencia Voice

Orlando City Lions owner Phil Rawlins and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber speaking to fans about Orlando's future with the MLS, Thursday afternoon.

Orlando. FLA- Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer, visited Orlando to speak about Orlando’s bid to become an MLS expansion team, Thursday at Mojo’s Cajun Bar & Grill.

Orlando City’s goal, since the team’s founding in 2010, has been to join the country’s top tier of soccer – A goal they hope to reach soon.

“We’re still on ground zero, but the process has already started,” said Don Garber on Orlando’s bid to join MLS.

With City entering the 2012 USL Pro Season as defending champions, there’s no doubt that Orlando has caught the attention of Major League Soccer.

The Lions had the highest average attendance outside of MLS, and the USL Pro championship game against Harrisburg City Islanders drew 11,120 fans.

“Orlando is an international city,” said Garber. “But we must find a stadium solution first before we get moving anywhere.”

The Florida Citrus Bowl, which plays as the home venue for the Lions, hosted a couple of games during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

“Orlando City is pushing the idea to build a soccer-specific stadium around Downtown Orlando,” said Orlando City President Phil Rawlins.

Don Garber also spoke about his ambitions on adding a second New York team that can start a rivalry against the New Jersey based club, New York Red Bulls.

“Rivalry is one thing this sport depends on and adding a second New York team in an area that populates 11 million people can be big for the league,” said Garber. “But keep in mind, we need to be south of Washington D.C.”

“We’ve got to have a team in the Southeast, but in my opinion, we have to be in New York and we’ve got to find a way to achieve both.”

With a plethora of teams in the MLS, especially in the Northeast, there are no clubs right now in the Southeast that play in Major League Soccer.

Orlando City seems to have all the pieces together to pursue an MLS bid, but if there’s one thing Garber repeated, it was that the fan base must grow.

“We’re going to show MLS how big our fan base can grow, but it can’t happen overnight,” said Orlando City fan Jennifer Conner, Winter Park.

With Miami being another Florida team pushing for an MLS bid, Don Garber said that could be great for a Florida rivalry.

“For example, Look at the Northwest, Seattle’s Cascadia rivalry with the Portland Timbers & Vancouver Whitecaps FC has strengthen those three teams fan base,” said the commissioner. “I’m sure having more than one Florida team can replicate what MLS has in the Northwest.”

Don Garber concluded his meeting with the fans and press by stating that he is working with Rawlins, to bring an international friendly to the Florida Citrus Bowl sometime this year.

“I’m optimistic. Orlando City is on the right path,” said Owen Russell, who drove all the way from Cocoa Beach. “I was sold after watching their first game.”