Last week, dear readers, I was in Barcelona, Spain. I stood in the stands and on the pitch at the Camp Nou, engulfed within the 99,354-seat stadium, where FC Barcelona has played since 1957. The club was formed in 1899 with an ad in the local paper calling for men wanting to play, and it won its first trophy in 1902.
As I was leaving this hallowed ground of football greatness, having walked through a trophy room the size of an airplane hangar, I thought to myself, "Orlando has a long way to go."
The thrill and jubilation from Lions fans at rising from USL to Major League Soccer in just four short years has given us an unrealistic set of expectations for our team. In the timeline of this sport, Orlando City is a tadpole to the experienced and sage likes of Stoke City (1863), Chelsea FC (1905), or Bayern Munich (1900).
Expecting a championship run in our first season is not only foolhardy, but it’s also spoiling the fun. Like a fine wine (cliche, I know..), a football team needs time to mature. Yes, winning is great. Who doesn’t like winning? It’s the American way, after all. Win or go home.
But clearly, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean there are millions of people who have inherited their team, grown up with their team, followed their team, and died with their team over generations, not just a few passing years. With the exception of a few, most don’t win every year. Yet, the teams survive winter to summer and then do it all over again. Why? Loyalty.
Coach Adrian Heath is an optimist and needs to keep the team buoyed for the set of rough games ahead. Looking positively towards the playoffs with a ‘can-do’ attitude is great, but when we actually look at the standings, East versus West, it’s a little harder to believe that the playoffs are in our future, even being in the weaker conference (it’s just lucky for us we don’t face Vancouver three times).
Before we can build a winning side, we need to build loyal fans. Positive numbers coming from our weekly gate returns indicate we are headed in the right direction. But one season does not a loyal fan base make. Did you see the emaciated crowd in San Jose on Friday night? Only 14,000-odd fans. Montreal on Saturday could only scrape together 13,000 or so, and they were almost on their way to the FIFA Club World Cup a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, every fan helps, every win makes us stronger. But to have a strong foundation, we need to dig deep roots. Right now our club is young, green, and hungry. But if we want to still be here in 50 years, and for our kids and grand kids to still be fans of this team and this sport, we need to slow down, settle in, and enjoy the ride instead of always trying to race to the finish line.
A winning season is great. But the club needs to remind fans that winning isn't the only thing, and that losses are just as much a part of the process – and the experience – for the team’s long term health and success.