Watching Orlando City's game Wednesday night against D.C. United, one thing was very clear. Despite being an original MLS member with a tremendous history, the atmosphere at RFK Stadium pales in comparison to the Citrus Bowl.
Many will point out that on the same night as this game the NHL's Washington Capitals were facing a game seven in New York and the NBA's Washington Wizards were playing their own playoff game in Atlanta. Others will point out that the 53 degree weather is unfavorable for an outdoor event. But this isn't the only time United have lacked attendance.
Earlier this season, without any of the obstacles of last night, D.C. only managed to draw 14,462 against the defending champion L.A. Galaxy. And two weeks later, against their arch rival New York Red Bulls, the team only drew 16,304. This lack of attendance has an effect on the atmosphere in the stadium.
One thing many fans from across the league have noted about Orlando City has been the tremendous atmosphere at the Citrus Bowl. Even Friday night against the New England Revolution, when the club had its lowest MLS attendance to date at 27,243, people from around the league noted the atmosphere from television.
There are cities around the league that do match the atmosphere in Orlando. Seattle and Portland regularly draw big crowds with atmospheres that would intimidate most European teams. But outside the Cascadian teams, you would be hard pressed to find another stadium that matches the Citrus Bowl on any given night.
Despite being a midweek game with other important events going on, the attendance and atmosphere at RFK must be concerning for the United front office. Of the four games taking place Wednesday involving teams representing the nation's capital, only United were at home.
It's a sad fact for what is a proud franchise with an impressive history. Led by Bruce Arena, D.C. United was MLS's first dynasty, winning three MLS Cups, two Supporters Shields, and a U.S. Open Cup in their first four years. Also in 1998, D.C. United won the CONCACAF Champions Cup (later renamed CONCACAF Champions League), becoming the first American side to do so. The L.A. Galaxy are the only other American side to accomplish that, doing so two years later.
While those accomplishments were long ago, D.C. United has had a resurgence as of late. After a tough 2013 season, the club topped the Eastern Conference last season. It was a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround for the historic club. They've continued their strong results this season, as they remain near the top of the conference just over a quarter of the way into the season.
It's difficult to judge Orlando City's atmosphere due to it being an expansion year for the club but so far the crowds, which regularly reach 30,000, have been impressive. Wednesday night's atmosphere in D.C. proves that the Lions play in front of one of the best crowds in the league.