This wasn’t the Orlando City we wanted, but it might be the Orlando City we needed.
Let’s face it, these last two years of Orlando City soccer have been, well, underwhelming. Lions fans were riding high back in 2014, and for good reason. Orlando had been one of the best teams in the USL for a few years, Kaká had come aboard in one of the bigger-name signings in MLS history, and the entire soccer world in the United States was looking down to the City Beautiful with a little gleam in their eye.
Two years later that might seem like a distant memory for some of you, but that’s a good thing.
I subscribe to the notion that nothing in life worth having comes easily, and I especially apply that to my sports fandom. Would you be happy if Orlando City had stormed into MLS and dominated from Day 1? Probably, but I know you’d never quite reach the level of ecstasy that Cleveland Cavaliers fans achieved this past June or Boston Red Sox fans felt back in 2004 (or Cubs fans will likely see in a few weeks).
I’m not saying we should hope for the Lions to become the lovable losers of MLS. In fact, you should always hope for your team to be the best. Winning is the goal, but there’s a silver lining in losing. There’s a tight bond between sports fans collectively suffering through the same hurt that brings us together. You love that random guy who sits in your section that you high-five after every goal because he’s also there to share knowing looks of disgust with you every time the Lions make boneheaded mistakes.
Maybe I’m a sports masochist, but some of my favorite sports memories followed times where my team lost, when my dad and I would sit around and deconstruct where everything went wrong. There’s something cathartic about caring deeply about a snake-bitten sports team. You can let out all the things that cause you anger and disappointment in your normal life when your team loses.
When that coworker you hate pisses you off, you can go complain about the coach. When you get into an argument with your girlfriend, you go to a bar and shout at your friends about why the star player isn’t playing up to expectations. If somebody ate those leftovers you had been looking forward all day to eating, that’s the perfect excuse to go pick up some pizza and call in to your favorite sports talk radio show and grumble on the way there.
Winning is great, but winning is greater when you have some losing that you can compare it to. This sure sucks now, but in a few years when Orlando City becomes a true MLS Cup contender you’ll look back fondly on these last two years. You’ll say, “Remember when Adrian Heath tried to turn Brek Shea into a left back? Geez, I’m sure glad that’s over,” and you’ll say it all with a smile on your face and a laugh in your belly.
This is all good for you, Orlando City fan, so take it in stride. The next time Orlando gives up a goal (or four) to a team that it should beat, shake your head in anguish. But remember, this is where real fans are made.