Our City is a weekly column focused on my perspective on Orlando City as a supporter. I would love to incorporate your ideas and stories, if you have something to add or a story idea please connect by commenting here or on Twitter: @kevinmercer225
As the new year and Orlando City's MLS debut both beckon, I can't help but be a little reflective. The past few years of Orlando City soccer have provided so many exciting moments. As much fun as MLS is going to be, I will miss USL Pro. It was a fun league and provided a great place for our club and its supporters to find their voice and make their argument for MLS in Orlando. Time will tell, but I feel we are an infinitely better team having had a few years in the lower league. The last few years have provided some great memories, here are my top ten:
10. Getting trounced by AS Roma at Rollins College's Sandspur Field 5-0
Wait, what? You are starting this list of classic moments with an absolute drubbing? Well yeah, it was a really special day. As I remember it, I was late for work the day the extremely limited number of tickets were released and was able to secure two. In case you don't know, Rollins College's soccer facility has a capacity of 500, with some standing room tickets added for this game.
My niece and I stood in the standing room area, and got there early enough to be right in front. To be able to see some of the best players in the world, playing literally feet from you, was such a treat. Orlando City was out of season and managed to cobble a team from who was in town and an extraordinary number of trialists. We were no match for a top European club in mid-season form, but it was still such an excellent day for the supporters and the club.
9. Beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Open Cup 2014
I had my fair share of wins to pick from when selecting a contest with our I-4 Corridor rivals. Orlando City holds a 6-0 record against the Tampa Bay club, while the Rowdies seem to hold a myriad of excuses as to why they have never been able to overcome a team theoretically a division below them. We've beaten them in two home and away I-4 Derby contests. The main excuse coming from the Rowdies camp has always been that they treated all their contests with Orlando City as friendly matches. That's why the Open Cup win makes the list, since we beat them convincingly, 4-1. And it counted.
8. Beating Colorado Rapids in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup at the Citrus Bowl
Speaking of the U.S. Open Cup, we've had our fair share of upsets in this competition. The Lions shocked the Rapids, 3-1, behind a Dom Dwyer brace. A midweek stormy evening meant this game was sparsely attended, but those that were there will now have a fantastic pub story to hold over our friends' heads when we start telling stories about the club in our old age. Orlando City played confidently and held the ball well for the entire game, never looking like they would give this one up. The other highlight of the evening was the small contingent in the supporters' end providing enough smoke bombs to create an impromptu goth club at the Citrus Bowl. The Rapids took their revenge the following year, winning a U.S. Open Cup match in Denver, 5-2.
7. Beating Sporting KC in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup in Kansas City
We had a good run in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup. Beating the Rapids gave us the chance to travel to Kansas City. The previous year we gave Sporting a game in KC, so when I tuned in to this game, winning wasn't out of the question, but it didn't make beating our sister club at the time any less sweet. One Long Tan goal and a lot of defending is all it took to pull off this away win. I'm aware most MLS teams don't hold the U.S. Open Cup with that much importance until the last few rounds, but for Orlando City it provided a chance to show the nation we were ready to compete with MLS teams in competitive matches.
6. The addition of Flavio Augusto da Silva to the ownership group
I've already spoken of my appreciation of founder and president Phil Rawlins, it is his vision and determination that saw Orlando City's arrival and initial success in Central Florida. The arrival of da Silva added the deep pockets and Brazilian connection that gave us additional clout with MLS executives and city leaders in our chase for a top flight club. Once that goal was achieved, the Brazilian's relationship with a certain Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known as former FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká, allowed Orlando City to sign its Designated Player. Flavio Augusto da Silva might not be the public face of the club that Rawlins is, but his leadership has proven just as valuable.
5. The Stadium Announcement
Maybe it was the first time I've ever watched a live stream from a city council meeting while at work, but I know I wasn't alone. City supporters turned out in mass or tuned in to the proceedings online for a number of city and county meetings until our stadium was finally approved by everyone. Those were some nervous days, as all the hard work put in on the field and in the boardroom, and all the impressive attendance totals and championships were almost for naught. MLS made it very clear that a stadium deal had to be in place before Orlando would be awarded a franchise. Passing a public spending bill in this political climate is truly an accomplishment. I'm happy to have one last year in the Citrus Bowl, but I know we are all looking forward to the first game in our new home. The addition of SunRail to the area means I'll be able to relive one of my favorite things about going to European matches -- taking the train to the game and walking to the match. All in the friendly confines of Orlando!
4. Beating Newcastle United at the Citrus Bowl in 2011
Every summer, English Premier League clubs journey over the Atlantic to warm up for their impending season against U.S. clubs. These games provide a chance for the English clubs to play for their American fans, continue to build their fan base, and for U.S. teams in mid-season form to fight for some bragging rights in games that literally have no meaning whatsoever. But when your third division club beats one of England's most famous clubs, you have to get a little excited. A Kevin Molino goal off of some hard work from Dennis Chin to create the chance gave Orlando City the one goal it needed to secure the classic win. Newcastle fans were left stunned and speaking of what now seemed to be a long season ahead of them. Newcastle went on to go unbeaten in its first 11 games and finish fifth in the EPL that season.
3. The MLS Announcement
Another person writing the same list might put this event at number 1, but to me it was pretty anti-climatic by the time the announcement came around. The celebration itself in Orlando's historic Church Street Station (site of the Orlando Magic's NBA expansion announcement incidentally) was more a party to celebrate the culmination of a lot of hard work and politicking by the club. While the Orlando City faithful might have seen this one coming, this event did put the club in the local headlines and brought attention that a USL Pro club wasn't able to do. Suddenly all the skeptics were ready to get excited about soccer in Central Florida. This excitement of course translated instantly into season tickets and merchandise sales that will be key to the Lion's long term success.
2. USL Pro Championship Final 2011
If you are a longtime Orlando City fan, you know we love to win our championships with as much drama as possible. The 2011 final was the first to set that tone. A total of 11,220 fans packed the lower part of the Citrus Bowl to watch Orlando take on the Harrisburg City Islanders. The first half was everything you expect a final would be -- conservative and quiet, as each team looked for its opportunity. Four minutes into the second half, Orlando City's talisman, goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, went off with a red card for a challenge outside of the penalty area. Playing a player down, City fought on to score what seemed to be the winner in the 89th minute, only to concede minutes later to Harrisburg, leaving the match tied up in the dying moments of regular time.
Harrisburg struck quickly in the overtime period, leaving the Orlando City faithful worried, but still full of voice, as they pushed the Lions on for the equalizer. Lewis Neal converted a penalty in the 115th minute to bring Orlando City level and push the game to penalty kicks. With Gallardo out from the earlier red card, little used back-up Sean Kelley would be in goal for Orlando. If you like an underdog story, you couldn't write a better one than Kelley's performance in the penalty kick round. Saving the first two, Devorn Jorsling finally put the game to rest with a rocket to the top right, as the Orlando support were repaid for their faith with a championship. Kelley, who played two USL games all season and didn't even start in the final, walked away with the MVP and a place in Orlando City history.
1. USL Pro Championship Final 2013
It would be hard to imagine anything topping the drama and excitement of the 2011 final. Having missed out on the 2012 final and losing the regular season championship to the Richmond Kickers, the Lions came into the playoffs on a mission to "Get Our Trophy Back." All week, excitement for the match increased, as ticket sales goals fell in quick succession. Rawlins dared Orlando to pack the Citrus Bowl and top 20,000 fans. In the end, almost 21,000 showed up. Orlando favorite, Sporting Kansas City loanee Dom Dwyer, was back in Orlando for the final game, after dominating the USL for the first half of the season and earning a recall to Kansas City. The Charlotte Eagles found the net first, in the 20th minute, proving they were here to play and ready to ruin Orlando's championship party. Of course it was Dwyer who scored the equalizer 13 minutes later. A shoot-out ensued, with the game tied at 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3. In the 69th minute the Lions scored for the fourth time of the night, and with the help of two Dennis Chin goals and one from Orlando City's first youth system call-up ever, Adama Mbengue, sealed the game at 7-4, giving Orlando City its second USL Championship.
Moving into MLS will of course rewrite this list as time goes on. We are sure to witness even more excitement in the coming years, but these moments in Orlando City history will always be the foundation for everything that happens in the future.
So what do you think, did I mention your favorite moment? Would you add something else?
EDITOR'S NOTE: The final score for the 2013 USL Pro Championship has been corrected.