With a stadium deal in place, Orlando moved to the brink of landing an MLS expansion team as early as 2015. “We look forward to working with the Orlando City SC ownership group to finalize an expansion agreement,” MLS executive Mark Abbott said. In other words, the deal isn’t quite done but should be soon.
Here’s why Orlando will pass inspection:
1. The Orange County Commission on Tuesday night joined the Orlando City Council in agreeing to help fund construction of a stadium, the final political hurdle in bringing MLS to central Florida. Expansion was predicated on, among other prerequisites, a new facility. Hooray for politicians-beyond-Capitol-Hill! Your profession’s approval rating just ticked up to double digits.
2. The 18,000-seat venue will sit near downtown Orlando. Yes, wise guy, Orlando has a downtown. The site is just north of the East-West Expressway intersection with Interstate 4 and a block or two from Amway Center, home to the NBA’s Magic. Not every market requires an urban setting; stadiums beyond the city center work just fine in places such as Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Philadelphia. Orlando would have settled for any accessible location. The city spot enhances the bid’s portfolio. With that out of the way, Buzzard Point, anyone?
3. MLS is finally able to expand its footprint between Washington and Key West. The Tampa Bay and Miami outfits sunk more than a decade ago, leaving a large swath of the U.S. map untouched by a national league. That’s a problem.
4. Cities with few other pro sports teams tend to back a newbie, regardless of the sport. It’s about civic pride. See Portland, Salt Lake, Kansas City, Montreal and Vancouver. Orlando offers only the Magic. Okay, we’ll also throw in baseball spring training and the NFL’s developmental league (aka college football).
5. Orlando is not starting from scratch: Orlando City, a third-division club since 2010, will step into MLS with a solid fan base, brand recognition and a cool logo.
6. Contrary to widespread belief, there’s more soccer presence than all of those pasty, vacationing Brits parading around in Man U jerseys: four group matches and a round-of-16 game during the 1994 World Cup; nine group matches during the 1996 Olympics; Orlando City, the reigning USL Pro champion; the 1998 MLS All-Star Game; MLS preseason tournaments; the U.S. women’s national team vs. Brazil next month at the Citrus Bowl; Orlando natives Dax McCarty and Graham Zusi; and University of Central Florida products Sean Johnson and Deshorn Brown. Orlando City could also claim South Africa’s famed Orlando Pirates as the brother from another mother.
7. Geographic rivalry with the Miami Beckhams, which is very much on MLS’s radar for further expansion before the league is capped at 24 teams. Distance: 230 miles.
8. MLS looks good in purple. Too many uniforms lack distinction. There’s no mistaking who dons purple. Orlando joins, among others, Fiorentina, Toulouse, Austria Vienna, Real Valladolid, Saprissa, Northwestern, Evansville and fictional Harchester United in the sharp hue. National anthem singer: Prince. Honorary “Breaking Bad” guest: Marie Schrader.
9. Orlando is not an international city in the traditional sense. Good luck finding five generations of Scots who have lived in the same neighborhood. But it is an international destination. Disney-bound Europeans probably aren’t going to purchase both Space Mountain and Orlando City tickets, but they might grab a scarf or jersey in the terminal. Any merchandise heading overseas is good for the league.