During Orlando City's game Sunday afternoon against New York City FC, The Third Rail, NYCFC's supporters group, unfurled a tifo which was meant to insult the Lions' past connections to Austin, Texas. The tifo displayed a clear misunderstanding of the state of American soccer.
In 2010, Phil Rawlins moved his Austin Aztex organization from Texas to Orlando in an attempt to eventually move his team into Major League Soccer. Critics of the move likened it to that of English club Wimbledon FC moving more than 50 miles away to Milton Keynes, a move seen as blasphemous on the British Isles. NYCFC supporters conveyed that opinion.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it is a misunderstanding of soccer's place in American society. In Britain, soccer teams are not viewed as businesses by the general public; they are viewed as clubs that are an integral part of the community in which they reside. Many of the clubs have been in their current stadium for more than 100 years.
Wimbledon FC was founded in 1889 in southwest London. While they spent most of their existence in the lower tiers of the English soccer pyramid and drew modest crowds, they had a meteoric rise in 1980s which saw them reach the first division in 1986. In 1988, the club won the prestigious FA Cup, defeating the class of European soccer at the time, Liverpool FC.
When, it was a tragedy for the community. Generations of families supported that club -- some even back to when it was an amateur side. They experienced highs and lows from decades of attending games to support their local team.
While no one ever wants to see sports teams relocate, this wasn't the case in Austin. The Aztex were only founded in 2007 and began play in 2008. They were stuck in a high school stadium without suites or the ability to sell alcohol, which seriously hindered their ability to make money. Additionally, despite some growth, the team's attendance was small even for USL, and the two nearby MLS teams made it very unlikely that MLS would ever arrive.
What Rawlins saw in Orlando, with the help of local businessman John Bonner, was a young city that was looking to embrace a new team. More importantly, they had a professional stadium which was used only a handful of times each year. While there was a local soccer team, the Central Florida Kraze, it was a team which publicly showed no intention to turn professional; it was only meant to give local college players a place to play.
The move happened five years ago. Both Orlando and Austin have their own professional teams and the new Austin Aztex have been in existence twice as long as the original Aztex. As Austin will likely never see a team higher than USL, few would say that it hasn't worked out for both cities.
Those who continue to belittle Orlando City, like those in New York and Austin, are comparing the glamor of British soccer to the reality of American soccer. They envy promotion and relegation and clubs with over 100 years of history. Despite the fact that few American soccer teams have more than 20 years of history, and promotion and relegation is far into the future (if ever), they like to pretend that American soccer has the same history and importance as the English game.
Sports teams relocating is never the ideal situation, but in this country it's not as cut and dry as it is in other countries. Soccer is still growing here and investors will invest where they see a future. At the end of the day, true fans of American soccer should be happy when there is an increase of markets that have teams. That means more Americans have a local team they can support on a weekly basis.
While the tifo on Sunday afternoon was in jest and for no other reason than to rile up the traveling fans, its malicious intent shows a misunderstanding of the state of American soccer.