On Friday evening Orlando City President Phil Rawlins announced that the club would be building a new training facility for Orlando City, Orlando City B, and their U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams in Lake Nona. The announcement has far reaching implications for the entire club.
The idea of a new training facility for the club is not a new concept. Head Coach Adrian Heath has mentioned in the past that the club's current training home at Sylvan Lake Park was simply too small for what the club was building.
For the senior team, this facility will be a big improvement. While Sylvan Lake is a fine training facility, the fact that the building and fields were already in place meant that the club was limited in what they could provide for the players. While the club has exclusive use of the facility at Sylvan Lake Park, it's still owned by Seminole County. Building its own facility means the team can give its players exactly what they need and build it exactly how the team wants.
This new facility will also have a major impact on the academies as the boys' academy players can now train at the same facility as the senior team. Ever since the academy was founded in 2012, Rawlins and Heath have spoken about wanting to create a "club culture" from the youngest ages to the senior team. By having all these different levels training at the same facility, the academy players are being shown what it takes to make it to the top level.
Rawlins and Heath have also talked about having the ability for academy players to see the pathway to MLS. From where the academy players are training, they'll be able to see the fields used by the senior team. It may not seem like much, but the ability to physically see the where the ultimate goal is can have a significant impact on the psyche of a young player.
Another major impact on the academy is where they will train. While Seminole Soccer Complex is a great home for Orlando City Youth Soccer and will continue to be going forward, it's not big enough for all the teams the club has. Currently, not all teams at the club can train at the facility instead using several areas around the Orlando metro area. The ability to have consistent training facilities for all of the club's teams was a major reason why this decision was made.
Since the foundation of the academy, Rawlins has talked at length about wanting to build a residential academy. It's all a part of his long-term goal to have a large percentage of the MLS side occupied by academy products.
The lack of a residential academy means that the club is rather limited in which players they can bring in to the academy. For a player to join the club from well outside the area, they must have their family move, have friends in the area, or have a host family to house them. A residential academy, like that of Real Salt Lake, will give the club the opportunity to bring kids in from all over (so long as they're not from another MLS market) and have a place for them to live while with the club.
The club owned land in Sanford simply didn't have the room to build such a facility. With the option to purchase 20 additional acres right in front of their newly acquired land, the club will have ample room to both build a residential academy and build more fields if necessary.
While everybody is talking about the impact this has on the men's teams, this also has a significant impact on the Orlando Pride and its academy. In most parts of the world, women's soccer suffers when it comes to investment. FIFA mandates that countries are supposed to give 15 percent of their revenue to the women's national team programs but that rarely happens. So imagine what it's like for women's club teams.
When the new facility opens in Lake Nona, the Pride will be the exclusive occupants of the Sylvan Lake facility that the Lions now call home. It will be not just the best facility in the NWSL, but arguably one of the best women's club facilities in the world.
Just as important as giving the senior women's team a stellar training home, more importantly is that they will be just a quarter of a mile from Seminole Soccer Complex where the girls' academy plays. Like with the boys moving to Lake Nona, the girls being just down the road from the Pride senior team will have several advantages such as giving top players the ability to train with the senior team.
Making this more important is that U.S. Soccer is moving in the direction similar to that of MLS in attempting to have all NWSL teams have an academy. It's likely that a homegrown player style rule is not too far behind. Having a setup where the academy, which is already fully developed, is close to the senior team will give the club advantages that other NWSL teams may not have.
Orlando City's decision to build a large, new training facility in Lake Nona will have long reaching effects on the club. From the senior team down to the youth ranks and on both the Lions and Pride sides, it's a step that will put the club at the forefront of American soccer.