Last week it was announced that Orlando City will open up the 2017 MLS season at home against New York City FC. This will be the second time in the three years that Orlando City has been in MLS that it will host NYCFC in a season opener. That is just one small piece of the history between these two organizations.
Sunday, March 8, 2015 is a day forever sketched into the City of Orlando’s history. In a “Fill the Bowl” campaign, Orlando City managed to sell out the Florida Citrus Bowl, now known as Camping World Stadium. Nearly 63,000 fans came to see Orlando City’s first ever MLS match.
The game was highly anticipated by the entire league, as it was not just two expansion teams playing for the first time, but also for all of the big names these two teams managed to sign. Kaká, David Villa, Mix Diskerud, and Brek Shea, in addition to NYCFC’s coach Jason Kreis, got the headlines.
The game itself did not leave fans disappointed. It was an even fight until Mix scored to put NYCFC up by a goal, but a Kaká free kick in stoppage time leveled the game. Game 1 in the 2015 MLS expansion rivalry ended in a 1-1 draw.
The next Orlando City vs. New York City match was four months later, this time in the Bronx. In this goal fest, NYCFC’s Kwadwo Poku and Villa were the difference makers, notching up three assists and two goals, respectively, to overcome Cyle Larin’s hat trick. NYCFC won the second game 5-3, taking the series lead.
That is the only time NYCFC has beaten Orlando City. In the next four games, Orlando City went outscored New York City, 7-4, going 3-0-1. The Lions finished 1-1-1 in 2015 against NYCFC with a 2-1 home win on Oct. 16 behind a Larin brace. In 2016, Orlando won its second straight in the series with a 1-0 victory at Yankee Stadium on March 18. Larin again provided the offense.
The teams drew 2-2 in the Bronx on May 29, with Orlando City staging a furious late rally to overcome a two-goal deficit. Frederic Brillant and Villa staked the hosts to a 2-0 lead but Julio Baptista and Kevin Molino answered late. The most recent meeting was a 2-1 Orlando City win at Camping World Stadium on Aug. 28. Kaká’s first MLS brace was enough to overcome a Stiven Mendoza strike.
Orlando City is currently the all-time series leader between the 2016 expansions clubs, with a record of 3-1-2. However, NYCFC currently has the last laugh, as in 2016 the soccer Yankees made the MLS Cup playoffs, whereas Orlando City has yet to reach the post-season.
- In the six games, David Villa has played every minute and scored three goals. Kaká has the same amount of goals in just 254 minutes.
- Cyle Larin leads all players with five goals, while Kwadwo Poku has the most assists with three. All of Poku’s assists came in the July 26, 2015 game.
- No Orlando City player has played in all six matches.
- NYCFC’s Josh Saunders and David Villa are tied for the most minutes between all players with 540.
- In the six games, there have been 27 yellow cards and one red card. Orlando City’s Seb Hines and Cristian Higuita have the most cards with three apiece.
How it All Began
On May 21, 2013, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that NYCFC would be the 20th MLS club. Six months later, Garber was in Orlando making a similar announcement, and Orlando City became the 21st club in MLS. While on-the-field progress has been similar between the two clubs, how they got to this point could not be much more different.
Garber has wanted a team in New York City for over a decade now, and so he started reaching out to potential investors. After a few years of searching, it was Ferran Soriano who helped Garber bring New York a second team, but this one to play in NYC, not New Jersey. The former Barcelona vice president and current Manchester City CEO was a driving force to the development of NYCFC. With clear roots from Soriano’s Manchester City, NYCFC was born. Playing in Yankee Stadium and with players such as Villa and Andrea Pirlo, New York showed the league that they are here to compete.
Orlando City began play in the USL in 2008 as the Austin Aztex, but in 2010 Phil Rawlins relocated his organization to Central Florida, renamed it Orlando City, and told the world of his vision to take this club into MLS. Not too long after that, the amazing support of the fans and local businesses caught the eye of Garber.
The commissioner met with Rawlins and gave him three conditions on which MLS would come to Orlando: a local market capable of supporting an MLS team, a financially stable ownership group, and a soccer-specific stadium. The first condition already met, Rawlins moved to the second. He partnered with Flávio Augusto da Silva, and two conditions were down. After lengthy negotiations and political issues were solved, Orlando City finalized plans for its soccer-specific stadium and were awarded the 21st MLS club.
Coaches on the Move
Both New York City and Orlando City had clear ambitions from day one: to get into the MLS Cup playoffs. While both teams failed to achieve this goal in their first year in MLS, off-season moves leading up to the 2015 seasons made it so that it came down to the end of the season.
One of those moves was NYCFC hiring Jason Kreis as its inaugural coach. Kreis is one of the biggest names in MLS, and within the league the signing was a great off-season move at the time. In his 305 MLS appearances, Kreis cracked into the top five all-time goal scorers list. In addition to his MLS success, Kreis is one of the best Duke soccer players of all time, and has playing time at the international level. Prior to coaching at NYCFC, he was a coach for the USMNT and head coach at Real Salt Lake, where he became the second-youngest coach to win the MLS Cup.
It is safe to say that New York City supporters were excited about their new coach. However, in his 35 competitive games in charge of NYCFC, Kreis only won 10 and did not make it to the 2016 season. There are many people who say that Kreis was never given a fair shot at NYCFC, most notable of whom is Kreis himself.
“I felt it was completely unfair and downright irrational to remove somebody from that position after one year. I felt that we were on our way to building something that could be successful for a long time, but we weren't afforded the opportunity to finish the job," Kreis said when asked about his time in New York.
A few months after Kreis was fired from New York, Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath was also fired. Heath was a fan favorite and the firing came as a surprise to many around the league. While the long-term was in mind and it may have been the correct decision, fans were not happy Heath was let go but he will always be remembered in the city of Orlando.
As the search for a new head coach began, the list of possible replacements was endless, but the first head coach of Orlando’s expansion rival would now wear purple. Kreis was considered by many to be the best man for the job, and managed to bring a defeated Orlando City squad to within a point of the playoffs in half a season in Central Florida.
There are not many ways to measure fan support in a quantitative way, but one statistic sticks out between these two teams: average attendance. Both NYCFC and Orlando City rank in the top three for attendance since they entered the league. In fact, the only team to average more than NYCFC or Orlando City is Seattle.
Now this is not always the most reliable statistic, as neither have yet to host a game in a soccer-specific stadium. To put in perspective how important this is, the Portland Timbers have a capacity of just above 20,000 fans in their stadium but have sold out every single one of their home games. Ever. Their season ticket wait list is at about 10,000 fans. Orlando City will start its 2017 season in a soccer-specific stadium and will hope to emulate this success, with 18,000 season ticket holders and a waiting list of about 2,000.
Still, for two expansion teams to be in the top three for average attendance in the first two years of MLS play is an important feat.
It is clear that the 2015 MLS expansion teams have high expectations, and have both succeeded and failed in key areas. Looking at these two organizations three years later, which team is in a better position currently, and which club will bring in better long-term results?