"You should jump on the Orlando City SC bandwagon," I tell my non-soccer-fan friends. "They're going to be huge in this city!"
Chances are, you've had this conversation with a friend before. Heck, maybe someone having this conversation with you is what brought you to this website in the first place.
It all sounds great. We'll #FillTheBowl on March 8, and the Lions will become an integral aspect of the Orlando cultural scene. Everything will be just as Phil Rawlins predicted.
Except if it isn't.
Let's take a quick trip 1,500 miles north, where Major League Soccer's most recent expansion side plays its matches. I'm talking of course about the Montreal Impact. An NASL side since 1992, the Impact made the leap to MLS in 2012. They'll play their fourth season in the American top tier in 2015.
Impact President and Owner Joey Saputo had some choice words about the fan support in the city last week, saying in French, "Honestly, the buzz for the Impact is gone."
Sounds like another horror story of a city failing to accept and support soccer in North America. That's the league's worst fear, and it should be all too frightening to anyone who remembers the last two MLS teams in Florida. As much as MLS has grown, we're still the fifth or sixth league on the totem pole as far as revenue and fan base. There could be nothing worse from the league's perspective than a city's populace simply failing to care about a Major League Soccer team.
The problem with Mr. Saputo's comments though, is it's not really the city of Montreal that's to blame. The Impact have been just a notch above god-awful in their three years in the league. They snuck into the knockout round of the playoffs in 2013 and were promptly eliminated, 3-0 by the Houston Dynamo. In 2014, they finished dead last in the East, eight points back of ninth-place Chicago. Yikes.
Here's my point: the support for Orlando City has been incredible so far. Not only that, but by all indications the club is building a team that should be competitive from the very beginning. However, the casual fans that Orlando needs to attract to sell out matches don't owe the team anything. If the product on the field isn't up to par, the fans will stop coming.
Orlando City should look to Montreal as a cautionary tale. Even in the most promising situations, the best fan bases will turn sour quickly if the team doesn't deliver on the pitch. This isn't England, where support for a club goes back generations in each family. Support for Orlando City goes back all of four years or so for some, and even less for most.
It's well established how difficult entering MLS can be for expansion teams, so Orlando certainly has some leeway in 2015. Still, I hope Montreal serves as a cautionary tale for the club. Support is incredible right now, but Phil Rawlins and company should be very careful not to take it for granted.