Orlando City Soccer Club
- City: Orlando, Florida
- Founded: 2010
- Ground: Exploria Stadium
- Nicknames: The Lions
- Colours: All purple kit with white trim
- 2021-22 League: Major League Soccer – Eastern Conference
- Club Website: https://www.orlandocitysc.com/
- Club Twitter: @OrlandoCitySC
- Best League Finish: 4th in Eastern Conference / 5th in MLS overall (2020)
- Best MLS Cup Result: Quarter Finals (2020)
- Best US Open Cup Result: Semi Finals (2019)
- MLS is Back Tournament
- Runners-Up: 2020
Orlando City Soccer Club are a football team based in the eastern Florida city of Orlando. The current club were founded in 2010, having moved from their original home of Austin, Texas (where they played as the Austin Aztec), to become Orlando City and play originally in the United Soccer League (USL). They would play four seasons in the USL before being confirmed as MLS’s 21st francise and joining the league in 2015. In the six seasons in the MLS, they are yet to win any silverware with 2020 being the club’s best season yet, by finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, reaching the quarter-finals of the MLS Cup, and finishing as finalists in the one-off MLS is Back tournament. Finally, they play in purple/violet, having been inspired by the colours of Italian side Fiorentina whilst a USL club, and are nicknamed “The Lions” in homage to previous Orlando-based soccer clubs who had the monicker of “Lions” in their name.
To talk about a Floridian side who currently play in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer, is the excellent Charlotte Patterson. Charlotte is a Orlando City, Sunderland, and Kyoto Sanga supporter who collects football shirts (especially J.League shirts) from around the world, and also writes extensively about Asian football, in particularly football being played in both East and Southeast Asia, for her Asian football website “Lost In Translation“. To find her website and social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Charlotte’s Twitter: @kirbyhazard
- LIT’s Twitter: @translatelost
- Website: https://www.lost-in-translation.co.uk/
Q. Who would you say is Orlando City’s best player, and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
It is hard to narrow it down as Orlando City has only been an MLS club since 2015, and was founded in 2010, so it doesn’t have too much history. But also there have been some players with the club who have affected it in very different ways.
When Orlando joined MLS in 2015, the club signed Brazilian World Cup winning attacking midfielder and 2007 Ballon d’Or winner Kaká in what was a huge signing and selling point for the new team. It brought interest into the club and helped get your more ‘casual’ football or soccer fans to become interested in the team. Whilst he wasn’t always able to contribute, due to injury and nearing the end of his career, he was pivotal in creating a good culture at the club. Nani [the 34-year-old Portuguese legendary winger], of course, has to be one the clubs best ever players. Whilst his temperament can be questionable at times, he has undeniably been a fantastic signing for us, scoring goals, creating fantastic assists, and just producing beautiful football to watch. I also think that Chris Mueller [25-year-old American winger] has been a fantastic player for the team, joining us as a draft pick out of college [playing for the brilliantly named Wisconsin Badgers] and working his way into being a first team player, getting his first USMNT call up in 2020, and providing some great goals and assists. Whilst it doesn’t always come off for him, he always gives 100% and works hard to improve himself. I’ll be sad to see him go at the end of the season to Scottish Premier League side Hibernian.
In terms of manager, it has to be Óscar Pareja [Colombian coach who has managed Orlando since 2019]. Despite this only being his second season with us, Pareja has reformed Orlando since he came into the club. We have always been a team which has languished at the bottom of the table and displayed poor performances. However, since then he has helped the club grow leaps and bounds. Bringing in great signings such as Peruvian international goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, midfielder Andrés Perea, drafting striker Daryl Dike from the Superdraft, strong Brazilian defender Antônio Carlos, and his compatriot, midfielder Júnior Urso. Orlando came close to winning the 2020 MLS is Back tournament, losing out to Portland Timbers in the finals and we made the playoffs for the first time in our history. Things have looked good again this year until recent weeks, but I still firmly believe Pareja is the man to take us forward.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in both in the past and present squad?
A cult hero for the club is probably Miguel Gallaso, who was a goalkeeper with Orlando until they were accepted into MLS. Whilst he no longer plays, he has taken on a role at the club and is still very much loved by fans. It is hard to state a cult hero for the current squad, as most players haven’t been with the club longer than two years, but I do feel like Pedro Gallese [31-year-old Peruvian goalkeeper] could well become a cult hero should he stay with the squad for a few more seasons.
Funnily enough, I guess our [24-year-old] Argentinian defender Rodrigo Schlegel would be considered a cult hero. Last year in a playoff game against New York City FC, our goalkeeper Gallese was sent off in the penalty shootout for coming off his line to make a save. Schlegal stated he would go in goal for the remainder of the shootout, despite the weight of pressure. He ended up saving the final penalty which led to Orlando advancing in the playoffs.
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at Orlando and why?
It’s terms of the current best player on the team, I would have to say Pedro Gallese. Whilst many would think I would say Nani, Pedro has been an incredible signing for us. He has undoubtedly changed games for us, ensuring we get over the line, keeping us in games to get a draw. His saves are fantastic, and it’s honestly surprising that a European club hasn’t come in for him considering he’s still relatively young and has international experience. Nicknamed ‘El Pulpo’, he radiates confidence, calm and stability. You’ll regularly see him commanding the back line, looking to create opportunities to counter, coming off his line, making saves that he really shouldn’t be. He has been a godsend to us, as a few years ago we consistently had one of the worst defences in the league and conceded the most. He doesn’t always get the accolades or praise he deserves, but you will always see consistently good performances. It is very, very rare to see him make a mistake and if he does, he has the right mentality to not let it affect him.
Q. Are there any players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?
I would definitely say the likes of Daryl Dike [21-year-old American striker], Andrés Perea [20-year-old American midfielder], and Sebas Méndez [24-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder] are definitely players to be watched. Daryl Dike joined us last year from college football [from Virginia Cavaliers] and scored 8 goals in 17 appearances for us in his rookie season. He was then loaned out to the English Championship side Barnsley for the end of their season, as things were uncertain about the 2021 MLS start date. During his time in England he scored 9 goals in 19 appearances and quickly became a fan favourite due to the effort he gave on the pitch as well as his contributions to the team as they chased a playoff spot for promotion to the English Premier League. Méndez is a player who has been with us for two years now and is someone who plays well above their years. It is easy to forget that he is still so young and he has been playing for the Ecuadorian national team since 2018 [earning 23 caps at the time of writing].
Whilst they have not been given any first team playing time as of yet, 17-year-old Wilfredo Rivera [Puerto Rican international winger/forward] looks set to be a talent for the future. When he was playing for Orlando City B (Orlando’s development side), he stood out amongst the rest, despite only being 16 at the time and playing against people who were ten years older than him.
Q. Who would you regard as Orlando’s biggest or historical rivals?
In terms of rivalries, it is difficult in MLS and the league tries very hard to ‘force’ rivalries. Orlando’s biggest rivalry has to be Atlanta United, up until Inter Miami joined the league last year. Atlanta were Orlando’s closest derby, even though they are 437 miles apart, something which would be considered by most UK teams as their furthest away games, let alone a derby. For a while, the rivalry was very much one-sided, with Atlanta dominating the games against Orlando and having bragging rights. But in the last two years, since Pareja took over at the club, Orlando have started to fight back and it allows for a more exciting fixture, and one which can be hard to predict now.
New York City FC are also considered to be a rival as NYCFC and Orlando were the two expansion teams which joined MLS together in 2015. Each season, you could always guarantee that the two teams would play each other on opening day.
Inter Miami are considered a rival, or more so they want to force a rivalry with Orlando. Naturally because the two teams are from the same state, many people think they should be our main rivals, but I don’t care much for them and neither do many other Orlando fans.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the club?
If you had asked me this question about 2 months ago, I would have been elated and excited to tell you about how I enjoy watching Orlando play, and that I think we could be strong contenders to win the Eastern Conference and go far in the playoffs. But in recent weeks, Orlando have been turning out incredibly poor performances, conceding lots of goals, little going in attack, and huge disciplinary issues, which has seen many of our players being given red cards. We certainly have the talent and skill to pick ourselves back up, but the team seems to be stuck in this slump at the moment.
Q. Looking at Orlando’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?
The best game would maybe have to be the Orlando City versus New York City FC conference quarter final match in 2020 MLS Cup, where we won on penalties [winning 6-5 on penalties after drawing 1-1]. The game was full of so much drama and controversy, that to come out with the win and advance to the conference semi-finals despite the situation was incredible.
One of my other favourite games was when Orlando played away at Atlanta in our 2020 ‘rivalry’ match, we ended up winning 3-1 in what was a fantastic performance by the team and the first time we had won a game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Some great but heart attack inducing games were back in 2018 when Orlando had a habit of pulling off the ultimate comeback. We would be losing games 2-0, and then from the 80th minute onwards, we would somehow score three goals to win 3-2. Orlando were infamously labelled as ‘Cardiac Cats‘ during this time.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the history of the club?
I actually have a shirt from every season since they joined MLS in 2015 and a few shirts from back when they were competing in the USL. One of my favourite shirts has to be the 2019 Parley jersey. Every year (with the exception of last year) MLS teams up with Adidas to create shirts which are made up of 100% plastic. Whilst the design is the same for every club, it is one of my favourites. MLS also brings out a lot of pre match shirts depending on the occasion, which are the same for each club. But I think my favorite shirt has to be the 2019 Orlando home shirt which I have signed by Chris Mueller.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of ‘The Lions‘?
The best thing is definitely the fans and the community. Despite living across the otherside of the world, I have never felt more welcomed. Fans interact with me constantly on social media, and when I have been on holiday to Orlando and gone to games, fans have bought me drinks, used supporter points to get me a tour of the stadium, invited me to their tailgates, and have sent me shirts, posters, and other merchandise across the pond which aren’t easily accessible here. Kay Rawlins, who is one of the founders of Orlando City, is so lovely and constantly interacts with me and fans on Twitter. The stadium is wonderful and was one of the first to introduce a safe standing section.
In terms of the worst things, it has to be about the performances. Whilst it is better nowadays, there is nothing more painful than staying up to watch Orlando play against a Western Conference team like Portland Timbers, where the games kick off at 4am and finish at 6am [British time] and watch us get hammered. It doesn’t happen as much now, but it is still difficult to watch Orlando perform poorly when you’ve stayed up all night to watch them. Whilst awful at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way and will continue to watch them until ‘silly o’clock’ even if they’re performing badly.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Orlando City?
My hope is that Orlando will eventually be able to win their first Supporters’ Shield, which for those of your readers who are unfamiliar to MLS, is winning your respective conference. After that, the top teams out of each conference will then battle it out to achieve ultimate bragging rights and be able to lift the MLS Cup. I will happily take Orlando winning the Eastern Conference in the next year or so and then strive to win MLS Cup in the next 5 years. I would also love for Orlando to qualify to play in the CONCACAF Champions League, not only to see them perform in the tournament, but also because I would love to go for the ultimate away day to a Mexican city.
A massive thanks you to Charlotte for answering our questions on football on The Lions. Remember you can find her social media accounts and excellent website in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.