Phil Rawlins, the founder of Orlando City and a major player in getting the club into Major League Soccer, is no longer pulling the strings. Orlando City announced on Tuesday that Rawlins had stepped down from his role as President and relinquished his duties of running the day-to-day operations of the club to CEO Alex Leitao.
As you would imagine, fan reaction was all over the place throughout the day, and the conversations about it continue. Regardless of how this is spun, it’s a major moment in the club’s history, and one that Orlando City has been building towards for the better part of two years now, to be quite frank. As many predicted, this day was coming — but as we learned this morning, not necessarily for the reasons we thought it would.
Following Adrian Heath’s dismissal from the club this summer, questions began to pop up wondering if Phil might be the next face out the door. When asked if he was going anywhere, he told Orlando Sentinel reporter Alicia DelGallo, “Only back to my office after this is over. No, I’m not.”
This past week, Rawlins stepped down citing “personal reasons.” And while it seemed like crafty PR work to cover up a much different spin, more details came to light this morning with his wife, Kay, announcing that the couple was separating. Now, that might explain everything. And maybe it doesn’t. We’ll never truly know. But it does make things a little more clear as to why he might have taken the decision to step down. In the Orlando Sentinel piece linked above about the separation, DelGallo also wrote,
“Augusto da Silva tried to convince Rawlins to stay with the club in a larger capacity before he agreed to retain the title of life-president.”
It’ll be interesting to see how that single line changes the view that so many have on the club’s Brazilian owner. Yes, it changes to the angle, but not the story.
So regardless of what did happen behind the scenes, the fact of the matter is pretty simple, no matter where you fall on what the current state of the club looks like: Flavio Augusto Da Silva bought a majority stake in the franchise in 2013, meaning he owns the club and has the right to run it however he pleases. Sure, we have the right to criticize moves that backfire or don’t seem to make sense, but it’s his money and he can do whatever he wants and put whoever he wants in charge.
How his views of running the club differ from Rawlins’ views will become far more clear in the next couple of years as Leitao takes the reins — he’s running the club now.
The past 12 months have certainly shown what direction things are heading in — not only have the local media and those who follow the league noticed, but the fan base has noticed, too. That means one thing heading into 2017: the fans expect results, and they expect Augusto Da Silva and Leitao to deliver those results. Now.
I wouldn’t call myself the most connected person to the fan base. I watch the games and observe from the press box, I typically stay off of the message boards, and admittedly don’t read the comments on this website very often. But I know there’s a lot of frustration out there and impatience created over the last 18 months — somewhat deserved, somewhat not. The fans will not hesitate to put the pressure on the club’s leadership and make them earn their hard-earned dollars.
With the new stadium opening next season, the allure of attending Orlando City games will stick around for at least the 2017 campaign, but it’s not going to last forever if the team isn’t successful. The business decisions — as much as what happens on the field — will factor in quickly. Just joining a waiting list for season tickets will cost you a $9 per month Lion Nation membership. First priority for single game tickets? $9 per month. We’ll see how long that lasts if the front office continues to turn around and the product on the field continues to struggle.
Here’s what we do know: in 2017, Jason Kreis and Niki Budalic will have control of the player side — at this same point last off-season, we didn’t know who would be pulling the strings behind the scenes, with no GM in place and a circle of rumors surrounding the coach — and Leitao will be running the day-to-day operations of the club.
The pieces are in place for Orlando City to still be a very successful MLS franchise. Now it’s just all about actually making the smart decisions needed to get the Lions there.