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Orlando Can Prove Itself As a Soccer Market Over Next Two Home Games

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The next two home games for Orlando City include a midweek MLS and a U.S. Open Cup game. Strong attendance in both will prove Orlando is a top soccer market.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City's success at the gate during their first MLS season has surprised many, including the club. After an opening match against New York City FC, which saw 62,500 enter the Citrus Bowl, the Lions have averaged over 30,000 for their remaining games. So far this season, only one home game has seen less than that number. But the Orlando City market will have a chance to place itself with the top MLS markets over the next two home games.

While MLS attendances have continued to rise over recent years, two specific fixtures have continued to struggle -- midweek and U.S. Open Cup games. While many teams regularly draw 20,000 for weekend league games, there is usually a sharp drop for midweek and Cup games, sometimes dropping under 10,000 spectators.

The attendance problem for midweek games is why MLS has been forced to add more weekend games and play through international breaks, something for which they've received much criticism. It's also a reason why the U.S. Open Cup, a prestigious tournament spanning over 100 years, receives much less acclaim than it deserves.

In 2014, only six MLS teams were able to keep midweek attendances near their weekend attendance numbers. The Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC, and Sporting Kansas City all had impressive attendances for midweek games but the rest of the league struggled.

It's even worse for U.S. Open Cup games. Last year, only two matches reached 15,000, Sporting Kansas City's fourth-round match against the NASL's Minnesota United and the final in Chester, PA, between the Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders.

The Open Cup attendance struggles have continued this season. Of the 12 MLS teams to host during the fourth round, only Sporting Kansas City broke 10,000 in attendance, bringing in an impressive 19,298 against USL expansion side St. Louis FC.

On Wednesday night, Orlando City will welcome the Colorado Rapids to the Citrus Bowl for the first time this season. It'll be the second time the two clubs have faced off in the stadium, following their Open Cup game during the 2013 edition of the tournament. A week later, Columbus Crew SC will come back to Orlando for the second time this season to face off in the Round of 16 of the Open Cup.

Wednesday night's game will give Orlando City its first opportunity to prove that it can draw a strong crowd for a midweek game. It'll be the only opportunity the club will get this season. Drawing a crowd of 20-25 thousand Wednesday night will prove that the Orlando market belongs among the upper echelon of MLS.

A bigger challenge will come a week later in the U.S. Open Cup. Even teams that have managed to draw big crowds at midweek have struggled to draw for this tournament. Because the club included the match on its season ticket package, there's no reason not to draw at least 14,000. A crowd of over 20,000 for their Cup match would further prove that the Orlando market is one of the best soccer markets in the country.

While Orlando City has had impressive attendances so far this season, they have yet to be challenged with a midweek or U.S. Open Cup game. Over the next week, the club will welcome both. If they can manage to draw anywhere near what they've drawn each home game this season, they will prove themselves as one of the best soccer markets in America.