It was difficult to know what to expect as Orlando City B kicked off its season this past weekend. Last year, the senior team set the bar for opening day campaigns, and while nobody would expect the same level of hoopla for OCB, a successful opening match is equally as critical to ensure the long-term viability of the club.
Despite the lack of a satisfying final score, I think you'd have to rate the experience an overall success. The enthusiasm of the crowd was high from kickoff to the final whistle. Even a lengthy lightning delay didn't dim the crowd's spirit as the vast majority of the fans made their way back to their seats after the delay to continue to cheer on the team.
Most of those in the stands were completely into the game for a full 90 minutes. At one point, a small 7- or 8-year-old boy caught a ball off a missed shot, and I'm sure that if you had offered him a billion dollars right then and there, he wouldn't have been more excited. The stands shook when Andrew Ribeiro scored the team's first goal, and even the ball girl never stopped bouncing and dancing (which my dad felt was an athletic achievement unsurpassed by any of the players). After the game was over, instead of moping back out to the parking lot, there was still a significant amount of excitement in the air, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't residual electricity from the storm.
Yet, as with the team itself, the experience has some maturing to do. For starters, I was a little disappointed that they were unable to sell out opening day. You can't blame it on the weather either, as the stands were only about three quarters full before the delay. My mom decided to join us early that morning and had no problem finding a ticket in our section. Perhaps this was due to opening day weekend being on Easter, or perhaps it was a result of limited local promotion (I talked to many local soccer fans who had no idea the season was about to start), but attendance bears watching as the season progresses.
Also, while I applaud the concept of bringing in food trucks to serve the crowds (which I intend to review in extreme detail in upcoming weeks), it is a crying shame that the season kicked off before the vendors were able to acquire a beer permit. My dad went off to buy us a couple of brews while I checked out the store, and I was shocked and saddened to see him come back empty handed. I understand that they're trying to address this travesty prior to the next game, but I can't shake the feeling that angering the beer gods had something to do with the final score.
Lastly, it would help to have a program or updated website with the players' numbers. Many in the crowd were asking those around them who the players were. Yes, there's a bit of familiarity that the fans need to develop with the team, and this did make for a nice ice-breaker with fans, but it's disappointing that people couldn't pull out their phones and figure out who the players were. None of the players loaned down from the senior team were even showing on the OCB roster.
As mentioned above, the game day experience was definitely a success. I had a wonderful time attending the game with my parents, and I'll be bringing the wife and kids this coming week. But as the honeymoon period fades, it's important that the team and facility take care of the little things that make the games memorable. I for one am very excited to watch them grow.