Seven weeks into Orlando City's inaugural MLS season the team has already managed to develop a bad reputation around the league. Many fans of opposing clubs routinely criticize the expansion side from week to week. But is that criticism fair or are opposing fans just jumping on an easy narrative?
Early into their MLS existence, Orlando City has gained a reputation for being a team of cheats. Many argue that the players regularly dive, looking for phantom fouls, and slide in for late challenges with the intent of hurting opposing players. Words like "cheats," "thugs," and "goons" have been used to describe the young team.
A lot of this reputation comes from the team's first game this season against fellow expansion team New York City FC. In that game, Orlando City had three players cautioned (Shea 29', Molino 40', Higuita 78') for what referee Alan Kelly deemed to be simulation. In the 83rd minute, Orlando City center back Aurélien Collin was sent off for a challenge on NYCFC's star designated player David Villa.
That game helped to build the reputation more than any other for multiple reasons. One is because that was the club's first impression as an MLS side. While the club had played four previous seasons in USL Pro, most MLS fans ignore the lower levels of American soccer and had never seen the Lions before. Another reason is because it was a spectacle with the two new expansion sides competing on national television in front of more than 62,000 fans in the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
Over the past six games, some have continued to criticize the team over instances which they consider unsportsmanlike. Collin has taken considerable criticism by opposing fans over his tough play, which at times some consider to be dirty. And despite the fact that the Lions have eliminated their habit of going down with the slightest of touches, some still refuse to forget that first match.
Another issue which may contribute to the reputation is the club's fans. Orlando City's supporters groups have dealt with several accusations over their existence. This year alone, they've been accused of destruction of property at the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, SC, and of causing trouble in the away section against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But apart from that, many don't like Orlando City fans' attitude of entitlement. In their four years in USL Pro, Orlando City dominated on and off the field. On the field, the club won five trophies in four years, never lost to the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies in the annual I-4 Derby, and made a quarterfinal U.S. Open Cup run in 2013, which included wins at home against the Colorado Rapids and a famous victory at Sporting Kansas City.
Off the field, the Lions led the league in attendance each season they played at the Citrus Bowl. During the 2013 regular season they began regularly drawing five figures and ended the season by drawing 20,886 to the USL Pro Championship Game.
With this success, Orlando City fans began expecting excellence on and off the field. And for the most part, the club met those expectations. However, the boisterous fan base caused ripples upon their entrance into MLS, which rubbed opposing fans the wrong way.
As an expansion team, many fans of long-serving clubs felt supporters of the young Lions should pay their dues before voicing their opinions. The fact that many Orlando City fans were outspoken about their successes in previous years caused many opposing fans to create immediate disdain for the club.
So what is the verdict on Orlando City? Are they a dirty team with entitled fans that are to be criticized by the opposition? Or has that just become an easy narrative for fans that see a successful and hardworking team?
Let us know your opinion in the comment section below.