You will have to forgive us at The Mane Land this week for our coverage of today's match-up with Sporting Kansas City. From Dom Dwyer's return to the Citrus Bowl, the other Sporting players who have spent time in Orlando, or the sense of familiarity the teams will have with some of this season's player moves, we have pretty much every angle of this game covered.
No way around it, today's game is a bit special all around. Spending time as Sporting Kansas City's USL affiliate provided the lower league Lions the blueprint for how to build a team for MLS.
While Orlando certainly looked at former USL clubs like the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, it was the relationship with MLS originals KC that may have provided the best lessons for building a solid organization. Since 2000, they have made the playoffs 11 out of 14 seasons, winning two MLS Cups and one Supporters' Shield in the process.
There are a lot of similarities between the two cities--a population of around two million, a median age of around 34, and television market size. Sporting learned quickly how to make the most of what they had to build a competitive organization.
In the age of Designated Players, Sporting has used its money wisely, investing in solid domestic talents like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, versus older European players. Around these players they have put a talented core of players who know how to win in MLS. While Orlando has had some recent struggles against teams with the big name DPs, it's actually types of teams like Sporting KC that Orlando City has struggled with the most--think of teams like D.C. United, Vancouver Whitecaps, or New England Revolution.
While the addition of more Designated Players, and more confusing rules that seem to help only the LA Galaxy bring in the players they want, it is still teams like Sporting Kansas City that have found the best success by building a team from top to bottom that knows how to win in this league.
While Orlando does have one big name DP in Kaká, the club's other choices in Carlos Rivas and Bryan Rochez point to a similar model as KC, bringing in solid young talent, developing them in the club and surrounding them with talent. While Orlando City is still a work in progress, understanding the success Kansas City has had and seeing Orlando take multiple cues from its former affiliate club is promising for the future.
Off the field, the Orlando City front office used Kansas City as an example of what might be, taking Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, along with a host of city and county officials, to tour the beautiful Sporting Park, a stadium that will serve as a model for what Orlando is building for its home stadium.
As the seemingly playoff bound Sporting Kansas City comes to take on our wounded Lions, take heart Orlando, the team that is taking us on is the one we are building ourselves to be.