The end of December is always a good time to reflect back on the year that's coming to a close before the serious business of looking ahead to the year that's to come. For Orlando City, 2015 has been a historic year that the club and its fans will never forget. It was filled with outstanding moments.
There were so many great moments to choose from that it was tough to narrow down to your typical year-end countdown, but we somehow managed to do just that. Here are the club's top moments of 2015. For the purposes of this column, I looked at Orlando City the club, not just Orlando City the MLS team.
10. Lions Sign Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita - Jan. 9
When Orlando City added two players from Deportivo Cali in Colombia, all of the attention was on Young Designated Player Carlos Rivas, a left wing with great speed and a thunderous leg. The book on Rivas was that he was raw but talented and could grow into a great professional that City could sell to a European club in a few years. Rivas started slowly but eventually showed himself to have game changing speed and an uncanny ability to cross the ball from the left. But it was Higuita that truly blossomed in his first MLS season. The defensive midfielder was a master at breaking up the opposing attack and was arguably Orlando's best player in 2015.
9. Orlando Selects Cyle Larin No. 1 in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft - Jan. 15
No one knew it at the time, but Orlando City made perhaps its most important personnel move of the season back in January by selecting forward Cyle Larin No. 1 overall in Major League Soccer's SuperDraft. The UConn product got on the field early due to injuries and made the starting striker position his own with a record-setting season (more on that below). The Canadian international capped his season by winning the MLS Rookie of the Year Award.
8. Late Winning Streak Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive - Sept. 13-Oct. 16
When Orlando City fell 3-0 at New England on Sept. 5, the season was all but over. The Lions looked dead in the water and reeling from a six-game winless streak. Then something wonderful happened. Orlando found its groove with a 3-1 home win over Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 13 and kept that going for five amazing matches, keeping the club's playoff hopes alive entering the final weekend. During the streak, City won at Chicago, 1-0, at New York Red Bulls, 5-2, and posted consecutive 2-1 home wins over Montreal Impact and New York City FC. Although results didn't go our way on the final weekend, that fight at the end of the season showed the team's resilience and gave us all something to cheer about.
7. Orlando City B Announced - Oct. 15
The Lions took a giant step forward in their developmental program with the announcement of their new, team-owned USL side, Orlando City B. The team, which will begin play in 2016 at Eastern Florida State College, will give the Lions an opportunity to better develop players to play for the senior team and will provide an outlet for reserve players that aren't getting enough minutes in MLS or U.S. Open Cup games. The affiliation with Louisville City never really worked out the way everyone hoped it would, so this move made a lot of sense and will allow Orlando to keep pace with most other teams around Major League Soccer.
6. Orlando Pride Announced - Oct. 20
Just five days after Orlando City B was announced, the club unveiled its new NWSL side, Orlando Pride. Led by Head Coach (and former USWNT coach) Tom Sermanni, the Pride will take the field in 2016 at the Citrus Bowl, bringing women's professional soccer to the City Beautiful. By partnering with the NWSL, Orlando City demonstrated its ambition to become the soccer capital of the south.
5. Trade for Alex Morgan - Oct. 26
It took the Orlando Pride only six days to make a huge splash, as the club acquired U.S. international star striker Alex Morgan from the Portland Thorns. Not only did the Pride bring in the most recognizable face on the USWNT in the post-Abby Wambach era, but the club also brought in Canadian international midfielder Kaylyn Kyle and striker Sarah Hagen on the same day. The Pride continues to build its inaugural roster with a number of international players, but Morgan is the star attraction, giving the team a face in much the same way Kaká did with Orlando City.
4. Cyle Larin Sets the Rookie Goal-Scoring Record - Sept. 25
Orlando's No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft paid huge dividends in his rookie season, culminating in MLS records on the road against New York Red Bulls. Larin became the first MLS rookie to register multiple hat tricks in a season with his second of the year. His three goals also gave him sole possession of the MLS rookie scoring record with his 12th, 13th and 14th tallies of the year in a 5-2 Orlando City victory. Larin would go on to finish with 17 on the season, crushing the old mark of 11.
3. First Home Win - May 17
It's a shame that it took until the middle of May for Orlando City to get its first victory at the Citrus Bowl. But the Lions did it in style, crushing the defending MLS Cup champions, 4-0, in front of a crowd of more than 40,000 purple-clad supporters. It was a dominating performance by City and a well-deserved first home win.
2. First Win - March 13
A historic event happened in Houston on March 13 at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Lions picked up their first ever win as an MLS side. Pedro Ribeiro's hustle forced Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric into a mistake and as the ball ended up in the air in a 50/50 race, Deric compounded his error by punching the ball into his own net for the game's only goal. In the end, Adrian Heath's side was 1-0-1 on the season after a 1-0 victory over the Dynamo.
1. Opening Day - March 8
No one who was in the Citrus Bowl on March 8 when Orlando City made its Major League Soccer debut (and filled the bowl) against New York City FC will ever forget the goosebumps. The stadium was electric as the Lions took the field, dressed in their home purple kits, in front of the home faithful. The home crowd of more than 62,500 fans waited though all of normal time to explode and finally got that chance on Kaká's free kick goal in stoppage time. It would have been truly magical had it been a game-winning goal instead of a game-tying one, but it was still unbelievable to feel and hear the roar of that huge Citrus Bowl crowd.
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These are our top moments, but there were many others -- wins in U.S. Open Cup matches, a friendly win over EPL side West Bromwich Albion, the selection of Orlando as a Copa America Centenario site, the addition of a USWNT Victory Tour match, the Pride's NWSL Expansion Draft, Kaká's goal celebrations both with The Wall and on the field with Kevin Molino's jersey, and more. What were your favorite moments of the team's first year in MLS?