The past two weeks have been exciting times for Orlando City SC. Last week, the club officially launched their long-awaited USL team, Orlando City B. That was followed up on Tuesday with the launching of the club's NWSL team, the Orlando Pride. While fans are excited about more professional soccer in Central Florida, the real takeaway from these announcements is the commitment and investment of Orlando City's owners.
Orlando City's structure is as strong as any soccer club in America. Starting with Little Lions, the youth setup for both boys and girls runs from the age of four to 18. On the boys' side, they can play with the U-23s while in college, before advancing to the USL team and, eventually, the senior team. And now the girls have a senior team to advance to as well. But it doesn't have to be this way.
There was another way the club's ownership could've gone -- a much cheaper route that would have commanded much less investment. All MLS mandates out of its clubs are a U.S. Soccer Development Academy (which consists of three age groups) and a senior team. The club also could've gotten away with building a bare bones stadium at around $85 million and only invested $15-20 million in the project with the rest coming from public funding.
Instead, the club built a strong structure, which gives players a pathway from the first time they touch a ball through the MLS team. They also willfully decided to privately fund their new, state-of-the-art stadium, which will cost them around $155 million.
What makes their investment even more noteworthy is that they could've been just as successful in the short term without it. There are teams in MLS like the New England Revolution and LA Galaxy that have declined to extend their academies into the youngest ages or display a U-23 team but had tremendous success on the field.
Orlando City could've had their three academy teams, along with the senior team and no high-priced players, and still won trophies while averaging a high attendance. It would've been cheaper, easier, and likely caused little to no backlash from fans and media.
Instead, Orlando City has created one of the most structured clubs in the country -- one that offers both boys and girls around Central Florida the opportunity to rise through the youth ranks and represent their local area at the highest level.
This isn't to say that the club shouldn't be held to a high standard. If results at the MLS level aren't going the right way, they should be treated just as any other major professional sports team. And this ownership group would welcome that reaction.
But through all the frustration during a season which it seems will end on Sunday without a postseason, fans of Orlando City should remember what they have been gifted. It's been proven with many teams in many sports that a committed ownership group is far from a guarantee. But the past two weeks have shown once again that this club has a very committed ownership group, which will bode well for the club's future.
That's something that all Orlando City fans should remember and for which they should be grateful.