This week marks the one-year anniversary of me joining The Mane Land to cover Orlando City. I've had the pleasure of working with some incredibly knowledgeable, talented writers, covering a team that's quickly grown into an obsession.
I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at some things that I've learned about this club since being granted the opportunity to cover them, while we wait for friendlies and the Orlando City open practice on Feb. 9.
#DefyExpectations is Not Just a Catchphrase
This club existed for only four years before moving to the top flight of North American soccer. It took just two and a half years in Orlando for the city to purchase land for an MLS stadium downtown. They brought in Brek Shea. They brought in Ricardo Effing Kaká.
No, this isn't just a trendy hashtag. It's a mission statement.
Ownership is Committed
Remember when public funding stalled for the new stadium? It took majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva about 12 seconds to laugh it off and open the checkbook.
Remember wishing we could see loanees closer to home, rather than hours away in Kentucky? Boom, we've got Orlando City B.
Remember when the USWNT captured our hearts on their way to the Women's World Cup championship? Surprise, here's an NWSL team featuring Alex Morgan to sink your adoration into.
Flávio and Phil Rawlins have shown an absolute commitment to the game of soccer in this city, from beginning to end. Their commitment to improving Orlando City, both on and off the field, is nothing short of admirable. Leadership in the front office, however, doesn't stop with the purse strings.
Management is Smarter Than Me
Oh, how this could not be more true. I remember wanting Romario Williams out of the 2015 SuperDraft. I remember being so high on Amobi Okugo that I profiled him on this website as one of my first pieces. I remember thinking Cristian Higuita should stay on the right wing.
Look, there's a reason I'm here and not in the front office. We should all be very, very grateful for that.
Our City Rules
It isn't easy to point at any one reason, but this city has absolutely wrapped its arms around this organization. I've been amazed to see the attendance, to see the passion, to see how quickly adoration for this club has spread.
In 17 home matches, Orlando City drew 558,407 fans to the Citrus Bowl. For comparison, as of Jan. 28, the Orlando Magic have drawn just 404,077 in 23 home games. Coming in second in both total and average attendance, I am damn proud to be a part of this fan base.
The Future is Bright
The most encouraging thing I've learned is that this club will leave no stone unturned to improve the future. From making bold hires, to unknown signings, to stocking OCB with young talent, to investing in the youth academy, the future begins with vision -- and boy, does this club have plenty of that.
While the front office can make the right moves, it is up to the players on the pitch to prove the results. We all know that Cyle Larin won the MLS Rookie of the Year award. We've seen the dynamic, game changing pace a young Carlos Rivas brings to the game. Darwin Cerén and Cristian Higuita absolutely own any midfield they just so happen to look at. When Brek Shea is on the ball, you do not blink. Rafael Ramos has one gear -- go. Richie freakin' Laryea fell to the Lions at No. 7.
Not one of them is over 26 years old.
It's been one hell of a year writing on this site. I hope you all have enjoyed even a sentence of it as much as I have enjoyed doing it.
Here's to another, Mane Landers.