Bright lights. Big names. Big headlines.
Lately it seems that these are the desires of expansion franchises. Anything and everything to get their name in the news and on the tongues of would-be fans and supporters. Too often, however, the pursuit of these desires leaves very little substance in its wake. A sacrifice of substance for instant gratification or long-term viability for short-term popularity.
Remember the fanfare of David Beckham's MLS Miami announcement? After nearly a year of roadblocks and setbacks, little remains of the pomp and circumstance, which has since been replaced with feelings of skepticism and doubt.
Do I even need to run down the list of miscues and miscalculations suffered by fellow expansion club NYCFC? They've made lots of headlines, but even the recent signing of Mix Diskerud cannot atone for all the negative press.
Miami wanted to make a splash. NYCFC wanted to win the off-season. Big lights, big names, and big headlines.
Shea vs. Diskerud: Which Signing is Better?
Both charismatic. Both U.S. Internationals. Both have really great hair... but who is the better signing?
Orlando City SC wanted to build a winning franchise and a globally recognized club. The focus was never on the short term, but from day one of the announced move to MLS, the club continued to operate with the same smooth efficiency that led to so much success in the USL Pro. The team remained focused on the plan and let the headlines and bright lights come find them.
It has been clear, from the signing of Kaka to the drafting of Cyle Larin, that Orlando City was going to build the club in the same manner in which Head Coach Adrian Heath leads on the pitch. No deep bombs are being lobbed into the attacking third with the hopes of finding a target finisher, but instead there is efficient movement, working with synchronicity toward the ultimate objective. Efficient and effective planning has led OCSC to make solid acquisitions without compromising the future for short-term recognition.
There was an air of expectation surrounding Kaka's signing, not long, drawn-out speculation. Despite his level of talent and career achievements, the celebration surrounding the acquisition of Kaka remained appropriate. It was a big splash but it was never painted as the ultimate achievement. Rather it was celebrated as the first step in the process of preparing for life in MLS.
Both the Brek Shea and "the Fridge" Gustavo signings could have garnered more press had Orlando City not continued to build on its acquisitions. Instead of being bogged down in the pursuit of Jozy Altidore and Mix Diskerud, City was busy bringing in young talent to surround its newest acquisitions and fill gaps in the depth chart.
Even the MLS Expansion Draft was handled without chasing headlines. Instead of selection Eddie Johnson, a surefire attention grabber but doubtful to bring any substance to the pitch, City continued methodically building a complete squad. Strategic picks and subsequent trades netted Orlando City Donovan Ricketts to plug the hole in net while Tally Hall recovers from injury, an extra international roster spot, two draft picks, a handful of helpful athletes and former MLS Cup MVP Aurelien Collin.
Continuing the successful draft day theme, the MLS SuperDraft saw Orlando City welcome Cyle Larin, Conor Donovan, and Akeil Barrett -- three solid picks that should flourish in the OCSC system.
Simply from a player acquisition standpoint, it is easy to see that Orlando City managed to out-splash Miami and clearly won the off-season over NYCFC without having either of those be their main focus. These are terrific moves to be sure, but they were all pieces in a puzzle that includes more than just athletes on the pitch.
Orlando City also did extensive work in the community, launching strong local marketing campaigns throughout the year. From "Paint the City" to magnet giveaways to the work of the Orlando City street teams, to the genuine focus given to the youth and academy programs, Orlando City is solidifying the future of the club, as well as the connection with community, and raising the team's profile in the soccer community.
The Lions also showed excellent judgment in forming an affiliation with USL Pro's Louisville City FC. An expansion club itself, Louisville City is a club with dreams as big as OCSC's. The drive to be the best is clear and present at Louisville City and will serve to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership.
From start to finish, Orlando City has set an example of how to capitalize on known advantages, establish a solid base of support, acquire talent, and build for the future, without compromising the ultimate goal. Every action was taken with purpose and measured efficiency.
Before the first kick in MLS, Orlando City is already positioned as a model club and one to be appreciated.