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Our City: Pros and Cons for Orlando City and a "Florida Cup" Tournament

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Last week, news trickled out of Miami that the owner of the NASL's newest club, Miami FC, is interested in staging a state-wide event for Florida-based professional clubs. Would a competition like this be of any benefit to Florida's reigning top level club? Let's look at the proposal in theory.

Our City is a weekly column dedicated to the fans and supporter's perspectives of Orlando City. Any feedback, comments, or questions? Find Kevin Mercer on Twitter @KevinMercer225

Among the Javier "Chicharito" Hernández transfer rumors and the spectacular replays from Orlando City's definitive win in the U.S. Open Cup over the Columbus Crew, a Twitter murmur came through about the owners of new NASL club Miami FC wanting to propose a "Florida Cup." How would such a competition work and what would the pros and cons be for Orlando City?

First, there already is a Florida Cup, played every summer by high profile clubs from around the world who are in the U.S. as part of their preseason tour. So a new name would be the first order of business. With plenty of imagery that represents our fair state I'm sure the organizers can work up something that involves sunshine, citrus fruit, beaches, or alligators. Bonus points if they hit all of them. The name and cup itself should have a special significance to the fans from the state, though.

In theory, professional level clubs would contend in such a competition. For ease, we will assume the top three leagues would receive invitations to play. I like the idea of lower level clubs getting an invite as well, but perhaps in a qualifying round of their own, though. In theory, we would have Orlando City (MLS), Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL), Jacksonville Armada (NASL), Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL), Miami FC (NASL), and a proposed Orlando City USL team. Six teams are actually manageable, with two groups of three teams playing one another and the winner of each group playing in a final.

There are two ways this competition could run -- first as a home-and-away series played throughout the year, and second, as a preseason tournament played in a host city. Each have their advantages and disadvantages that I will highlight throughout the rest of this article.

What are the pros and cons to such a competition for Orlando City?

  • While the casual fan won't ever express much interest in this type of competition, the hardcore fans and supporters groups love these kinds of match-ups. Soccer is a game of rivalries, grudge matches, and derbies; a tournament of this shape would provide bragging rights for years should we win it (of course we'll win it right?). Not to mention, rivalries bring fans to games and make the casual fan just a little more intense.
  • These are high-interest fixtures. Played as a preseason tournament in a host city could provide a nice boost for local economies as fans travel and spend time and money around Florida. Compared to a friendly against another MLS club that we will see in legitimate competition just weeks later, these would pique the interest of the supporters a bit more.
  • It would force the Tampa Bay Rowdies to play us. Since losing to Orlando City in six straight, the Rowdies have been shy to rekindle any kind of competition with the club. As the lone MLS club in the South for a few more years, we lack those heated and fun rivalries that dot the U.S. soccer landscape. Did you notice during the recent MLS Rivalry Week we were quietly given a bye week? Playing clubs from around the state would give us a taste of what the rest of the nation gets regularly.
  • If played around the state as a home-and-away series, these games would provide an excellent exhibition of the team across the state. Orlando City has supporters across the state, so games in Jacksonville and Miami would allow fans who have only seen the club on TV a chance to see (and support) the club in person. More of a general positive, it would also highlight the hotbed of professional soccer Florida has become.
  • The first negative for Orlando City is the most obvious. As the club on top, there is nothing to gain or prove by winning such a competition. When the then-USL Orlando City played Tampa Bay in the I-4 Derby, we were able to show that we could beat clubs that were, in theory, a level above us in the U.S. soccer pyramid. Those wins were great for a club looking to establish itself against the most historic club in Florida. As the highest ranking club, we'd become the team with nothing to win and everything to lose. This could shift if Miami Beckham United FC could ever figure out where to lay a patch of grass to play on.
  • Without significant prize money or another reward of some kind on the table, these games would only ever be glorified exhibitions for Orlando and the other clubs. Top players would only see limited minutes. This would hardly prove anybody are the "Kings of Florida."
  • As a preseason tournament, commitment to such a competition would mean Orlando could never travel far from Florida in the preseason. The club has made no secret of its quest to make themselves a global brand. A state-wide tournament doesn't really fit those goals. As a year-long home-and-away tournament, this could provide schedule congestion and distractions from the higher priority MLS season and U.S. Open Cup.
  • A season-long, home-and-away style tournament would limit any of the high-profile international friendlies the club likes to schedule in the summer. This could be a pro for some people, as these are extremely meaningless to some fans.

On paper, the negatives greatly outweigh the positives, as Orlando City has little to gain and everything to lose from such a tournament. Still, in a nation that is eager to build a soccer tradition, a regional competition like this could become something really special. Much as college football rivalries from Florida often end up becoming the difference between national championships, developing a soccer culture of intense rivalry in the Sunshine State could become, over time, a competition that the nation pays attention to, much like most American soccer fans understand the intensity of a Cascadia Cup match-up between the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Seattle Sounders. That, of course, is an MLS-based match-up, but couldn't such a rivalry develop between Florida's teams?

Right now, everything, including this article, is pure speculation. Adding MLS Miami, a substantial cash prize, or some eventual national/ international TV coverage could add some incentive to the idea, but right now it really is a situation of too much to lose and nothing to gain.