Sunday, September 8, 2013

City of Orlando as big a winner as Orlando City

The Orlando City Lions looked good ... real good ... 7 goals good ... in winning their 2nd USL Pro League championship in three seasons. Dom Dwyer scored four goals and Oviedo's Dennis Chin added two more as the purple-clad lads defeated the Charlotte Eagles, 7-4.

But to me, the real winners were the fans and the Orlando soccer scene. A crowd of 20,886 -- yes that is a crooked first number in a five-digit total -- came out either to support their team or to check out what all the hype was about. And, note to the Orlando Sentinel, there legitimately 20 thousand folks there, I was stuck behind every one of them trying to reach the media lot.

They were treated to an excellent game, whether or not you think 11 goals scored in one match is terrific. A 1-0 game that lacked action won by either side that put many people to sleep for stretches of the game would have been highly counterproductive to the building of a major-league market in Orlando.

If there was any doubt left that Orlando is an MLS-worthy market, and if the $40 million pledged by the city and county to facilitate the construction of a soccer-specific stadium is a bad investment, that's over and done with. Saturday's crowd broke the attendance record for the USL and its major incarnations over a 20-plus year period. It blasted the 11,220 that attended the 2011 USL Pro title game in 2011.

Head Coach Adrian Heath called the scene "surreal" and called the crowd "the icing on the cake for me on the night." Dwyer, who is under contract with Sporting Kansas City of the MLS and would more likely come here as an MLS opponent, said "you can't argue with it now" about Orlando's readiness for the MLS. And Chin, who went to Oviedo High School and Rollins College and wouldn't have dreamt about playing major-league soccer in his hometown while growing up, said that when he saw the crowd at gametime he had a bit of a time just "keeping (my) head."

"Twenty thousand speaks for itself," he said.

A lot of politics are now on owner Phil Rawlins agenda in the next months, as Orlando and Orange County must put their checkbooks where their verbal support has been over the last few weeks. MLSalso has to make good on its talk of Southeastern expansion. The message sent Saturday was that Orlando stands ready.

The best part about Saturday is that the fans were respectful, well-behaved (aside from the "YSA" chants each goal kick from the supporter sections, but we've come to expect that with a shake of the head) and avoided any major incidents. The crowd gave Charlotte an ovation during the postgame presentations.

But then, it was party time ...

Anyway, good on ya', Lions. Well played match. Good on ya', fans. Well played night.

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