It was a festive night at the Orlando Citrus Bowl, as thousands of Orlando City SC fans piled into the refurbished old stadium to witness the team's first soccer action on the artificial surface of its 2015 home. In addition to scheduled training, the fans were treated to a post-event autograph session that saw Designated Player Kaká stay a full two hours past his designated time to ensure that every Lions fan who wanted one went home with his autograph.
The Mane Land was on hand to chronicle the proceedings. It was the first practice with the team for young DP Bryan Róchez and new Lion midfielder Eric Avila was on hand as well. Defender Aurelien Collin was given the night off in order to rest, showing that the club understands it has to manage its star center back, who will no doubt see a ton of minutes this season.
"For a lot of these people, this'll be the first time they've ever been inside the new Citrus Bowl," said club Founder and President Phil Rawlins. "So it's a chance for them to see the new facility, sit in their seats, see the team, see the new field, see everything...tailgating, what's it like to come in here. So it's great for them to get a sneak preview before March the eighth."
The evening began with warmups and a full training session, with Head Coach Adrian Heath wearing a microphone linked to the stadium's public address system, so fans could hear him direct his squad. After training, the fans came down onto the new artificial surface and queued for autographs.
"I'm delighted we did this. It was a good idea," Rawlins said. "I think everybody's enjoyed it. The players have certainly enjoyed it. They were amazed at the turnout. They're very, very thankful. I talked to players that have been in MLS for many, many years, like Danny Mwanga, Amobi Okugo, Tally Hall...they're blown away. I won't tell you who, but a couple of them said "we never had this many for games. It's great for them to see this and know the city's behind them."