Orlando City entered the Orlando Citrus Bowl to the cheers of thousands of Lions fans, including a loud, boisterous, supporters' group section at the south end of the stadium. But there was no game.
The Lions took to the artificial turf of the Citrus Bowl for the first time today, for a training session open to the fans, many of whom stood rather than sat as the players warmed up and ran through drills in their purple shorts and gray training jerseys.
The coaching staff stood off to the side, arms crossed, often having a word with one another, seemingly oblivious to the singing, chanting and flag waving of the Iron Lion Firm and Ruckus.
The players went through about an hour and 15 minutes of warmups, training and drills as fans watched and, more importantly, purchased food, drinks and merchandise, and enjoyed themselves.
"It's amazing to see," said Orlando City SC Founder and President Phil Rawlins. "I've not looked at the records, but I'd be amazed if anybody had a practice where we had seven, eight, nine thousand people. I don't know how many we had but we've made a significant impact tonight."
To my eyes, it appeared somewhere between three and four thousand, but it was still a significant turnout for a practice. It didn't hurt that there was an autograph session with players for season ticket holders after the event. Kaká was very much in demand during that, obviously, with fans mobbing him to sign jerseys, pictures and soccer balls. One young lady rode another person's shoulders to get a glimpse of the Brazilian.
"Great turnout by the supporters, as ever," Head Coach Adrian Heath said. "They never cease to amaze me with their support of the club...It's been a good evening."
Tonight marked the first practice with the team for Designated Player Bryan Róchez and new Lion midfielder Eric Avila was also on the pitch.
"It was amazing," Avila said as he signed autographs after training. "I've never seen anything like that. I've been a part of a couple MLS clubs and this is something new and exciting, and I think the guys were so fired up tonight to get the season started.
Overall, it seemed everyone enjoyed the open practice - players, fans and front office. But the coach had to adjust to wearing a microphone.
"It was a little bit different. Being mic'd you have to be a little bit mindful of the kids," Heath said. "I was a little bit quieter than I usually am and a little bit more reserved."
"It's a celebration," Rawlins said. "The fans are enjoying it. They're loving seeing their new team in their old team and there's a lot of smiles on people's faces. That's what it's about at the end of the day. We've had fun. It's been great."
Were you there? Why not write up a Fanshot (on the right hand side of our home page) and tell us what you thought of the evening?