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Flying Lions: Orlando City Will Lead the East in Frequent Flyer Miles

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In the past, the Lions traveled mainly by bus. In 2015, they'll log more time in the air than any other Eastern Conference team.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Orlando City SC makes its first road trip in Major League soccer this March, some of the players will experience an entirely different way of traveling from what they are used to. Unlike in USL Pro, where a good amount of bus travel was possible and many games that required air travel were clustered together into multi-game road trips, each away match in MLS will be an individual round trip.

A total of 44,628 miles will be flown on Orlando City's road trips. That includes two flights each to Montreal, Toronto and Chicago, one flight to each remaining Eastern Conference city, and visits to half the Western Conference teams. The flight distance is approximately four times what the Lions had to fly in USL Pro last season (bus trips and U.S. Open Cup notwithstanding). In fact, it's likely more distance covered by air than all four of Orlando's USL Pro seasons combined.

How does that compare to the rest of MLS?

Of importance is the fact that Orlando is further flung from the rest of the league than any other team. Our nearest competitor for now, D.C. United, is 760 miles away. Our air travel will be the furthest of any other Eastern Conference team by far.

Only two other teams in the Eastern Conference -- Montreal Impact (30,374) and New England Revolution (30,962) -- exceed 30,000 miles of air travel. Part of the reason for that is the concentration of teams both in the Eastern Conference in general, and specifically in the northeast corridor. The mere fact that there are two teams in New York City eliminates three possible airline flights this season (New York City FC travels to New York Red Bulls twice). And although I don't know for certain, the NYC teams may not even fly to Philadelphia, as that's less than 100 miles away.

A large component of Orlando City's lengthy exodus will be the repeated trips clear across the map. The Lions will visit Seattle, Portland and San Jose in 2015.

In fact, the comparison for Orlando City is a lot closer to the coastal teams of the Western Conference. All five teams on the Pacific coast exceed 40,000 miles of air travel this season. The team with the furthest to travel this year in MLS is San Jose Earthquakes, who have to travel 48,947.02 miles. That is helped by the fact that they have to hit the East Coast four times this season.

Also exceeding Orlando is Vancouver Whitecaps FC at 47,199.54 miles. This is despite the proximity of the Cascadia Cup teams to each other.

Needless to say, the boys in purple better be prepared to rack up a few airline miles.

Before I go into detail, some assumptions have been made:

  • The official airline partner of MLS, Etihad Airways, does not serve Orlando. So I am using JetBlue, Orlando City's carrier of choice for flights in USL Pro, to determine which airport they will fly into. JetBlue serves all American MLS markets.

  • JetBlue flies into Hobby Airport (HOU) for Houston, and O'Hare International (ORD) for Chicago. I am assuming San Jose International (SJC) for San Jose, since JetBlue flies to all three airports in the Bay Area. I am also assuming Reagan National (DCA) for DC, being the closest of the three airports in the DC area to RFK Stadium.

  • JetBlue does not fly to Canada yet, so a previous MLS partner, American Airlines, has been assumed for all flights to Canada.

Now, courtesy of the website OpenFlights, the flight map for Orlando City's 2015 road trip schedule.

2015 road trip visual

In USL Pro, Orlando City had several multi-city flights each season, especially in 2013 and 2014, with multiple West Coast teams. The 2013 season began with a multi-city trip to Phoenix to play Phoenix FC, followed by Los Angeles to play the club now known as Orange County Blues. The Lions also had a multi-city trip that started in Harrisburg (City Islanders), and went to Rochester (Rhinos) the next day. Later, they would fly for consecutive games in Dayton (Dutch Lions) and Pittsburgh (Riverhounds).

In 2014, the first flight out was to Dallas to play the FC Dallas reserves, followed by a side trip to Oklahoma City to face OKC Energy. Later in the season, they would fly to Pittsburgh to play the Riverhounds, then head to Rochester the next day to play the Rhinos. But as the season wore on, it started to look more and more like what they would face in MLS, with single-game flights to Phoenix (Arizona United) and Sacramento (Sacramento Republic).

All those flights were intermixed with long bus trips. Games against the Charleston Battery, Wilmington Hammerheads and Richmond Kickers were all traveled by bus. Going forward, it's highly unlikely Orlando City will be traveling city-to-city by bus ever again, even if/when Miami gets an MLS team. Since the club now has a big league budget, there's no point sacrificing comfort for monetary savings.

The game has changed. The amount of travel our Lions will face is only one of the results of that change. It is the price of being top-flight.

Here's a city-by-city look at the mileage:

Away Trip

Miles (Round Trip)

Houston Dynamo (3/13)

1,694

Montreal Impact (3/28)

2,494

Portland Timbers (4/12)

5,058

Columbus Crew (4/18)

1,606

D.C. United (5/13)

1,520

San Jose Earthquakes (5/24)

4,828

Chicago Fire (6/6)

2,012

Montreal Impact (6/20)

2,494

Real Salt Lake (7/4)

3,854

New York City FC (7/26)

1,888

Toronto FC (8/5)

2,114

Seattle Sounders (8/16)

5,098

Toronto FC (8/22)

2,114

New England Revolution (9/5)

2,242

Chicago Fire (9/19)

2,012

New York Red Bulls (9/25)

1,876

Philadelphia Union (10/25)

1,724

Total

44,628