As The Mane Land first reported yesterday, Orlando City is breaking ties with current affiliate club Louisville City FC and placing a USL club in Central Florida. Like many Orlando City supporters, I greeted yesterday's news with excitement. This news can only be a win-win situation for the club and its supporters. Without knowing all of the details, as a club name, stadium, and roster are all up in the air, here are a few quick thoughts.
First, and this has been widely circulated as one of the key reasons Orlando City wanted to have an affiliate closer to home, it will provide an excellent opportunity for the young players on the roster to get significant game time. Players who have spent this season on the fringe of the starting 11 haven't been sent to Louisville. International call-ups and injuries have made these squad players important pieces for the game day bench. While this helps the club in the short term, these young players are investments for the club that need to be playing more than the occasional friendly.
Sending a player to a far-off affiliate is challenging for the player, as no first-team playing time is guaranteed. Everyone points at Dom Dwyer's loan from Sporting Kansas City to the then-USL Orlando City organization as how well these partnerships can work. Forgotten is how a talented player like C.J. Sapong was also loaned to the Lions and couldn't seem to find his way into Heath's starting 11 with consistency.
I asked a number of the young players on Orlando City's roster during the preseason if they were willing to go to Louisville City this season, and many of them hoped to stay in Orlando as they were eager to break into the game day roster. A local USL club will provide the best of both opportunities for these younger players.
Besides the players, an Orlando City USL club will give a chance to young and up-and-coming professionals all around the Orlando City offices. The club will be managed by former player Anthony Pulis, a guy who has future top level manager already written on his resume. All around the organization, from coaches, trainers, and front office staff, you have to assume there are eager people who would love a chance to show their mettle with a position in the minor league club. That experience will help Orlando City in pulling the best and brightest into the organization, as it provides plenty of room for growth.
For the supporters, this might be the biggest coup. While the average fan may not come watch the minor league product when the major league product will be playing at the same time, there are plenty of us within the Orlando City faithful that would never count ourselves as average.
USL games would give fans an excellent opportunity to watch the young Lions by providing a more intimate experience. Supporting the USL club would provide a huge lift to the supporters. Imagine the chance to watch the future stars before they hit MLS. Think about the intimacy USL games provide vs. an MLS game. How about the chance to take the whole family and let the kids see the pros a little closer and meet them after the games?
Rumors that the club will locate the USL team somewhere on the East Coast for now would also allow fans unable to make the drive to still invest some time, effort, and passion into Orlando City.
Ideally, I hope the USL club plays at least some of its games in the under-construction Orlando City soccer specific stadium. I also want to put this out there early to anybody in the organization reading this: Orlando City season ticket holders should get into USL games for free or at a deep discount. Just an idea, think about it.
My fellow Mane Land writers and I will be writing more about these developments with Orlando City's USL club as the season progresses. What about you? What excites you about a USL Orlando City club? What would you like to see them do with their new affiliate club?