As Orlando City travels to South Carolina to take on old USL foe, Charleston Battery, there will be a sense of nostalgia in the air. While the Lions hold an 11-2-1 record over the Battery overall, this record doesn't reflect how competitive the matches between the two clubs were.
The Battery have always put a competitive team on the field. They won the USL Championship in 2012, sandwiched between two Orlando City championships. They have compiled nine championships overall in the various incarnations of the USL that they have played in since 1993. In tonight's competition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, they were runners-up in 2008, and made the semifinals in 1999 and 2004 --an impressive record in the MLS Open Cup era.
In addition to seeing a former USL foe, a number of the players who moved up to MLS with the Lions will be sure to see some action, further cementing the throwback feel for tonight's game.
Without taking anything away from the fantastic experiences I've had as a supporter during this inaugural MLS campaign, I miss the USL days. Those four seasons are full of fantastic memories for a lot of longtime supporters. It was in those four years we began some of the friendships that have become cemented now. It was during those years we got to be a part of our city's fight for MLS recognition.
Of course, we were also treated to some memorable, dramatic, and downright historic moments on the field.
Those were days we made heroes of guys like Dennis Chin, Jamie Watson, Rob Valentino, and Miguel Gallardo. They were seasons we spent watching players like Kevin Molino, Luke Boden, and Darwin Cerén learn their craft and prepare for the bigger stage. All of these players have carved their place into the hearts of the Orlando City faithful, a place equal to new superstars like Kaká and Brek Shea.
Longtime supporters won't find it strange that I just put Jamie Watson and Kaká in the same conversation. Newer supporters and casual fans are quickly scrolling down to tell me I'm completely mad. One of my fellow Mane Land writers and I have a theory that you can tell how long somebody has been following Orlando City by how highly they rate Luke Boden, Kevin Molino, Darwin Cerén, or any of the former USL player's games. We aren't unbiased.
The early Orlando City seasons felt a bit like when you find that great underground band and insist all your friends need to listen to them. A few take the advice and are as blown away as you. Then, the band gets huge, and, while they are still fun, you know you'll always have that story about how you and your friends saw them in a club with only a handful of people.
Of course, our USL seasons were days of grace. Phil Rawlins and company over-invested in talent and ran the team more like an MLS club than one from the third division. Had we not made it to MLS, that level of spending on players and promotions would have certainly come down a few notches. The USL has changed a lot since we were there as well. The inclusion of MLS second teams and partnerships has made the league feel more like a reserve league than the one we knew.
That is the nature of nostalgia; for all your want to relive the past, the present moves on like the beat of the supporters' section drums. Now that we are an MLS club, we are all in. Our USL years gave us our history, our built-for-MLS pedigree, and our grassroots support. These three things have been critical to the club's success on and off the field this year.
This history will continue to be an important part of the fabric of our club as we move forward, and move forward is what we shall do. Let's bring home the Open Cup boys, Go City!