Maybe our Lions won't be playing on Sunday for a berth in the 2015 MLS Cup final, and maybe the fans are still trying to work through the emotions of seeing Tally Hall (among others) on a list of players let go by the team, but here are some things that Orlando City supporters should be thankful for this year!
An MLS team
This was the inaugural season for Orlando City as an MLS team. Yes, the Lions have been around for a few years, but there was definitely excitement surrounding the club as it transitioned into Major League Soccer. From the announcement, to "Fill the Bowl," to the exciting playoff chase at the end of the season, the season was parts magical, frustrating, and incredible. We suffered all the hardships an expansion team is supposed to suffer, but we did it while posting the second best attendance in the league. We missed the playoffs, but did so in the most exciting and closely watched way possible -- if you forget about the month of August. We weren't just an expansion team, we were an expansion team that made headlines.
Phil Rawlins and Flavio Augusto da Silva have been engaged and proactive owners of the organization. They have understood that money would need to be spent, that the city government would need to be supportive and that the supporters would themselves need to be respected and listened to. They brought in players like Kaká, Brek Shea, and Adrian Winter. Some player moves yielded results on the field, some off the field, and some both. They appreciated the fans when they showed up to support the team, and they made the promise to continue investing in the organization. They proved that when they secured an NWSL team for next season, the Orlando Pride, and when they announced the USL team, Orlando City B.
The New Stadium
The most visible aspect of that support is the new stadium. Many times, when a sports club wants to build a stadium in a city, they ask the tax payers to fund the project. In this case, the organization decided to fund it themselves (partially a politically expedient decision, but still the right one). Plus, they are contributing to other improvements that the city needs related to the new stadium. That type of public/private partnership is something that many other cities envy, and we have it in spades.
The 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year was the flashy signing for this new MLS expansion team and he was so popluar that his jersey sales made the top 10 of all MLS players. The dynamic, experienced midfielder gave the Lions immediate legitimacy. Have no doubt, he did elevate the play of those around him in this first season. Was he as dominating as he was in 2007? Of course not. However, he did show flashes of brilliance, and most importantly, he provided the young team with elite level of experience to help it develop. He will also be the first to tell you that MLS isn't the cake walk that the rest of the world thinks it is. Kaká had his own learning curve this year, but I expect that he will continue to help Orlando City develop into one of the premier clubs in the league.
Never has an expansion team showed up with such an intense fan base as Orlando City did in its first year. Between the Iron Lion Firm, the Ruckus, and the thousands of other purple-clad maniacs, we showed the league that we were here and we would be loud. We had the second highest attendance of all clubs, a feat that is particularly impressive given that it was our first season. I'm certain that Orlando City supporters will do everything possible to take the number one spot.
We here at the Mane Land are also thankful. It's been just over a year since we became a part of SB Nation, allowing us the opportunity to reach all of you. I am personally thankful that I have been able to contribute to this site along with the many fine writers and editors that we have. We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!