When Orlando City fans think about how this club came about being an MLS side, three names come to mind; Phil Rawlins, Flavio Augusto da Silva, and Adrian Heath. And while all three of these men had a great deal to do with the existence of the club in MLS, there are two key names missing.
When Orlando City took on the New York Red Bulls on July 18, the supporters groups put together a tifo display that depicted Rawlins, da Silva, and Heath with the phrase "We Built This City." As inspired as the tifo was, it clearly missed two key figures in Orlando City's existence. This display showed the popular idea of the most important figures in club history but left out two critical ones.
Born in Nottingham, England, John Bonner moved with his wife to the United States in 2004, settling in Cocoa Beach. Four years later, he moved to Orlando, where he would open his Big Fin Seafood Kitchen. While watching a game at a local bar, Bonner realized that soccer had become popular in Orlando, yet the city lacked a professional team.
There has always been a stigma attached to Central Florida that the area can't support professional sports teams. It's also widely assumed that the only sport cared about in the area is college football. It's something Floridians hear all the time. So why would someone trying to get a team in MLS put their team in Orlando?
Without Bonner wanting a professional team in Orlando, there's a chance Rawlins would never have chosen Orlando as his destination. He probably would've been more likely to move to Atlanta or Raleigh, with Atlanta being the biggest city in the south and Raleigh being a hotbed for soccer.
Ever since he started the Austin Aztex, Rawlins has wanted to own a team in MLS. In 2010, Orlando seemed like a very poor choice for that, due to its reputation. It would've been considered a better decision to go to Atlanta or Raleigh. Evidence of this is the famous story which took place during the club's first media day in 2011, where local sportscaster Pat Clarke told Rawlins and Heath that, while he wished them luck, this project would never work.
While Rawlins has never publicly declared whether or not he still would've chosen Orlando had Bonner not been involved, it's likely that Bonner's involvement had an impact on Rawlins' decision -- if nothing else than giving Rawlins the idea that Orlando was worth looking into.
The other important figure often forgotten is Marcos Machado. Brazilian by birth, Machado was a goalkeeper for the Central Florida Kraze, later bought and renamed Orlando City U-23. He would go on to become their goalkeeping coach as well.
When Rawlins brought Orlando City into existence, the club hired Machado to become the Lions' goalkeeping coach. It's a role he still has today. In addition to his professional soccer duties, Machado was also the technical director of Florida Rush Soccer's boys program.
After moving to the United States in 2009, da Silva enrolled his son, Brenno, in Machado's program. Da Silva shared his passion with Machado and his plans to buy an MLS team, with Atlanta being the most likely candidate. After hearing this, Machado set up a meeting between da Silva, Bonner, and Rawlins to help convince da Silva that he should put his MLS team in his adopted hometown of Orlando.
Without Machado's intervention, MLS's 21st expansion team may have been in Atlanta rather than Orlando. And without the investment by da Silva, Orlando City would've still been short of the finances needed to move into MLS.
Flavio Augusto da Silva, Phil Rawlins, and Adrian Heath helped to turn Orlando into a soccer town. That's without question. But if you mention those three, you also have to give credit to John Bonner and Marcos Machado. While they may not be as visible in public, Orlando City simply would not exist without Bonner and would not be in MLS without Machado. As the club continues to grow, hopefully those two will receive the credit they deserve.