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Why Orlando City is Don Garber’s Model MLS Franchise

Don Garber delivered his State of the League Address on Thursday. Based on his comments, Orlando City looks like it has everything in place the commissioner says the league is looking for.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

MLS Commissioner Don Garber delivered his State of the League address on Thursday morning, as Major League Soccer nears the end of a landmark 20th season.

It was a compelling, somewhat predictable, and generally optimistic view of where the league stands after two decades of play. But for Orlando City, Garber's message couldn't have been more clear: keep doing what you're doing.

The Lions didn't have a perfect inaugural season in MLS, missing out on the playoffs and seeing several key players struggle with form and injuries. The front office will have its hands full this off-season, finding a starting goalkeeper and rebuilding a bench which had its lack of depth exposed at times in 2015.

But, off the pitch, it was a pretty remarkable season for a franchise that needed to see dramatic growth in its fan base and brand to achieve success at the next level. Garber's comments on Thursday pretty much affirmed the fact that the Lions are well on their way to achieving that goal.

It starts with the new stadium, which Garber made clear on Thursday is the single most important factor the league considers when awarding expansion franchises. Clearly, exceptions can be made, but while NYCFC continues to wander the boroughs of New York looking for a potential stadium site, Orlando City fans already can walk down Church Street and see their new home ground being built.

A soccer-specific stadium lets MLS know that a city is committed to its franchise, which is especially important in a league where so much player movement and allocation is controlled by the commissioner's office. With a state-of-the-art facility on the way, Orlando has a chance to become one of the league's signature franchises and receive access to the kind of talented international players that reflect that.

But beyond the upcoming stadium, Orlando City's new NWSL franchise is another indication of the Lions' commitment to becoming one of the premier soccer clubs in North America.

Looking across the MLS landscape, only clubs that have enjoyed success on the field and at the gate have shown the audacity to launch a women's team. The Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign have both emerged as a product of MLS success in their cities.

With Orlando Pride set to begin play in 2016, Phil Rawlins and Flávio Augusto da Silva have sent a clear message to MLS: they believe soccer has made it in Orlando.

But again, that's only true off the field for now.

All the goodwill and enthusiasm the club has built this year could be lost if Orlando City remains mired outside playoff position over the next few seasons. But the Lions already appear to be ahead of their expansion siblings in that regard as well, with a manager in Adrian Heath who has the organization's complete support. With a front office willing to spend on talent, is there any reason to believe Orlando won't restock for next season?

Garber made it pretty clear what he expects from MSL franchises as the league looks to the future, and if the foundation Orlando established this season is any indication, the Lions are set up for a bright future.