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A Supporter's Guide to Heartbreaking Losses

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We all walked out of the Citrus Bowl last Saturday night in a daze. In a game that Orlando City dominated for 95 minutes, supporters were disappointed as the Vancouver Whitecaps stole the show and all the points with a last gasp goal. After a bit of time to process it all, maybe a tough loss is just what we needed.

Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

How are you feeling Orlando? Have any of us recovered from Saturday night's 96th-minute sucker punch yet? I know I haven't. That one's going to leave a bit of a supporter's scar for awhile.

The early season has been a bit of dreamland so far for Orlando City and its fans, with heroic (and fortunate) goals and enough on-field dominance to encourage the faithful. Octavio Rivero's well-placed header was the MLS reality check we've been hoping to delay as long as possible. We woke up Sunday morning with a million questions about finishing chances and New York City FC above us in the standings.

There is another narrative wrapped up in the Vancouver Whitecaps' smash and grab win. Losing builds character. You shouldn't like it, like the taste of vitamins or that awkward probing your doctor does during your annual visit, but it's good for you.

Each game has a winner and a loser. Even when teams split the points and tie, one team walks away more satisfied than the other. Every season has one champion, and 19 non-champions. As much as we Americans pride ourselves on this idea of backing winners, statistically we all lose a lot more than we win.

Consider Toronto FC, who in their first eight seasons in MLS have never been to the playoffs, or recent MLS Cup finalists New England Revolution who have made it to the final game five times without winning it all. Last year's Supporter's Shield winners, the Seattle Sounders, despite their season of success still fell in the playoffs.

Other sports are full of their own examples. The harsh truth of sports, the one marketing departments everywhere are trying to help you forget, is that the next gut-wrenching loss is just around the corner and it is the probable outcome of every season.

This is where supporter culture comes in. Soccer traditionally has supporters, not fans. You don't have to wave a flag and lift a smoke bomb to be a supporter. The culture of soccer has plenty of room for independent and affiliated supporters. Fans come and go. You can win over new ones and lose fair weather ones, but supporters by nature are dedicated. When we say "Forever Our City," we don't insert an asterisk to denote only during winning seasons. When we exclaim "City til I Die!" we are all saying that with the intention of living long full lives. Win our lose, this is our city and our team.

Last Saturday's late heartbreak is only part of our ever growing relationship as supporters with Orlando City. Our club plays for our city, represents us on the national and (hopefully one day) international stage. The players are agents of that club.

Sure, the modern sports landscape has blurred this and made us all a bit cynical, but at the end of the day I believe this is still the essence of the relationship. Our attendance, investments of time and money, dedication, and voices all put the "we" in every team win or loss.

We don't like losing, and we shouldn't. We don't want to do it too much, but it's good for us. It tests our loyalties and builds our passion. Knowing you can lose sets up the tension of the next matches. It makes you want to sing a bit louder, chant a bit harder, go a bit bigger the next time we have the chance to support the boys in purple and white.

It makes us want the next win that much more, and it makes our eventual championships that much sweeter.

We don't have to be good losers. We don't have to be gracious ones. We just have to remember there are a lot of losses and lessons on the long road to a championship.

With a long and challenging inaugural season just getting going, more heartbreak and losses might be just around the corner, but all of them just make us better supporters in the end.  Go City!