I, like many Orlando City fans, took to Google yesterday afternoon after the announcement of the club's friendly with Ponte Preta. I like to think I'm worldly in my soccer knowledge; between a lifelong obsession with the sport, a voracious appetite for soccer media, and a 20-year-old FIFA and Football Manager addiction I just can't kick. Even with all of that, I'd never heard of Ponte Preta before yesterday. I polled my fellow soccer addicts across the country with similar results.
Five minutes of internet knowledge told me they play in Brazil's Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, after finishing as the runners-up in Campeonato Brasileiro Série B last season. A bit of history: they were one of the first soccer clubs in the Americas to accept black players. They are one of the oldest clubs in Brazil and finished as runners-up in the 2013 Copa Sul-Americana.
While this quick history lesson made the match-up more appealing, as a long time fan of the club, it still possesses a bit of a yawn factor. After four years as a lower league American team, we've pulled in some fantastic clubs for friendlies. Everybody who was at the 1-0 win against the English Premier League's Newcastle United will talk about that until the end of their days. I'll always remember taking my niece for an impromptu friendly at Rollins College vs. Italian giants AS Roma.
We've matched up with Roma twice, along with Brazilian giants Fluminense FC. Add a glamor match-up with another Brazillian club, São Paulo FC, and English clubs Bolton Wanders and Stoke City FC, and you have a very attractive list of past friendlies.
These are games that make you get excited for your club to share the field with some of the world's greatest players and clubs. Games that you get up for despite no points or trophies being on the line. For the supporters, these games were about bragging rights -- something in short supply for our relatively young club.
A match-up with Ponte Preta just doesn't do that.
This first year in MLS has been, and should continue to be, the biggest of coming-out parties. "Defying Expectations" all over the place. The names being tossed around by some of the fans who were looking forward to this summer's expected friendlies included Benfica, AC Milan, or maybe one of the EPL, Bundesliga, or La Liga powerhouses.
We are a top flight club now, a match-up with a Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid aren't out of the question. These teams traditionally play a few MLS clubs as part of a North American tour.
Orlando City has openly been courting both the local and international Brazilian fan. A completely understandable tactic, considering both our ownership group and our star player. Still, you need to encourage the club to find the highest possible match-ups.
We have had three friendlies with the top competition available in Brazil, we are owned by a popular figure in Brazil, and we have arguably one of the most popular Brazilians to ever play on our squad. If that hasn't captured the Brazilian market, will a match-up with last year's Série B runners-up do that?
In a season that has "filled the bowl" and "defied expectations" over and over again, I believe the supporters deserve a top level friendly with a big name club. It was my thinking, along with others, that the next time we put 62,000 people into the Citrus Bowl we were going to see our Lions matching up with a world famous European club.
On the positive side, a club like Ponte Preta will provide a good match-up for the players. Coming out of Brazil's top league, they will prove to be a tough and technical side, undoubtedly. As a club without a profile in the United States, it's good to see that the club can help another club raise its profile. I can imagine there were a lot of people in Rome and Newcastle wondering who Orlando City were, after all.
Of course, this is only the first of three additional promised matches as part of the season ticket package. Meaning there are more announcements to come. Your move, Orlando City.