Most long-time supporters of Orlando City SC know founder and president Phil Rawlins. He has been the public face of the club since its inception. He is actively engaged with the day-to-day running of the club and interacts with the fans. The push for the club to be awarded an MLS franchise and a new downtown stadium meant that Rawlins seemed to become an additional member of numerous morning radio and TV shows.
Majority owner and chairman of the club, Flávio Augusto da Silva -- while not as publicly visible as Rawlins -- has also played a crucial role in the development of the franchise and its push for MLS. At the same time, he has left a Brazilian impression on the club that will dominate its lineup, its international marketing, and perhaps even its local fan base.
Da Silva has a bit of a golden touch when it comes to business. At the age of 23, the Rio de Janeiro native founded an English language school known as Wise Up. Within 23 years, the school was a successful international business with 400 learning centers in six countries, and was valued at almost a billion dollars. The company was sold in 2013 for that amount.
Orlando City's Brazilian owner uses his story and experiences to educate and inspire young entrepreneurs through his non-profit Geração de Valor (Value Generation) project. This work, along with his motivational speaking appearances, have placed him among the most admired Brazilians in a number of polls.
After the sale of Wise Up, Da Silva looked to invest his money in his childhood passion, soccer. While looking for a team to invest in, he quickly teamed up with Rawlins on his project to bring Orlando City to MLS. He immediately made his impact on the enterprise by putting his own money into the discussion on building a stadium. This investment was critical in pushing city and county leaders into backing the plan.
On the field, Orlando City's newest investor helped deliver the most coveted of signatures -- that of former World Player of the Year, Kaká. The Brazilian World Cup winner is a personal friend of Da Silva. The club has since added two additional Brazilians in midfielder Pedro Ribeiro and recent acquisition, defender Gustavo.
Much as Rawlins' English connections were able to draw in top clubs like Newcastle and Stoke City to the Citrus Bowl in years past, Da Silva brought a top Brazilian club to Orlando. The Fluminense game is still the third highest attended game in Orlando City history. The club's first games as a top level American side were going to be friendlies in Brazil in preparation for the MLS season before they were canceled due to a scheduling conflict.
Orlando City has always had an international feel, from English owners and managers, a blend of multi-cultural players, and a fan base that draws from numerous ethnic and cultural groups. Da Silva has simply taken that club and given it a touch of samba. The connections between Brazil and Orlando are natural, as the city is a top destination for both Brazilian tourists and expats.
With the addition of one of Brazil's most influential business leaders and one of its all-time great players, Orlando City is now being marketed heavily in the Portuguese speaking part of South America. Da Silva's business savvy and personality will both be crucial to Orlando City's on- and off-field successes.
*Changes were made to reflect the cancellation of Orlando City's pre-season tour of Brazil.