The first time that Orlando City hosted New York City FC this season, the Citrus Bowl was packed to its capacity with 62,500 fans in attendance for each club's Major League Soccer debut on March 8. While Friday night's rematch in the City Beautiful won't match that number, several factors are lining up that could result in OCSC's second-biggest home crowd of the season.
Orlando City manager Adrian Heath said last week that he thought the match could draw close to 50,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl. This number seemed a bit ambitious at first, especially given his prediction of 45,000 fans for the club's last match against Montreal Impact, a number that was about 10,000 too high.
However, when considering the factors surrounding this fixture, Heath's estimate may be pretty close to what we see on Friday night.
The first factor working for this match is the Friday night scheduling. While MLS and soccer as a whole have come a long way in terms of popularity, America -- and the Southeast, in particular -- is still football crazy. This match won't be competing against big-time college football games on a Friday, and local alumni from some of the bigger football schools in the state won't be drawn away as they may have been to Gainesville on Oct. 3, when Florida was hosting Ole Miss at The Swamp at the same time as the Lions were taking on Montreal.
Florida, Florida State and UCF (whose fans are probably looking for a reprieve from football after an 0-6 start anyway) don't play until Saturday, so the Lions will take center stage under the Friday night lights.
Additionally, this will be the last home match of the season for the Lions, which means the OCSC faithful have extra motivation to make it out to the Bowl. Orlando City only trails Seattle this season in attendance, as the Lions have averaged 32,202 per match and have passed over 515,000 total fans through the turnstiles. With NYCFC sitting third in attendance just behind Orlando, and a high number of Northeast transplants in the Central Florida area, you can expect to see some sky blue in the stands in addition to the sea of purple.
When you combine the aforementioned factors with the playoff implications and the on-field star power, Heath's ambitious estimate seems much more reasonable.
The Lions, riding a four-match win streak and in their best form of the campaign, need three points to keep their playoff push alive and to keep the pressure squarely on Montreal in their closing matches. NYCFC, which can't catch the Impact from its current eight-point deficit in the standings, still has drawing power in this one due to a star-studded roster. Former European greats such as David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, while past their prime, are always good for a few ticket sales solely based on the strength of their names. It's a shame that Orlando's former FIFA World Player of the Year, Ricardo Kaká, won't be available to add even more star power. The Brazilian is out due to a yellow card accumulation suspension.
With a victory, Orlando can pull back to within a point of Montreal, prior to the Impact's away fixture against New England on Saturday night, and the support from another massive home crowd can play a big role in attaining that win. Whether Heath's prediction of 50,000 will be met remains a question, but the Lions faithful can prove him right and end their inaugural MLS home slate with a bang by turning out strong on Friday night.