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A Tale of Two City Fans: How Strong is the Out-of-State Support for Orlando City?

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Orlando City calls the City Beautiful the Soccer Capital of the South, but perhaps it's more than that.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There are very few similarities between Chelsea Levine and Kyle Drown. They live in different parts of the country, are in different stages of their lives, and they have never met. But there is an underlying unity: They are Orlando City fans outside of Florida. How they became City fans is also very different, but they share the same love for the same club hundreds of miles away.

Levine grew up in Orlando. She spent the majority of her life bouncing around different cities in Central Florida. An avid Manchester United fan, along with the rest of her family, she loved soccer from an early age. So when Orlando City moved into the Citrus Bowl in 2011, she was hooked.

"I was driving to work one day and I saw a little truck with a billboard driving around saying something like ‘Professional Soccer has come to Orlando,'" she said. "I looked up the website on the truck and invited a friend of mine to the first game because it sounded like a fun time."

Levine and a close group of friends soon became season ticket holders for the inaugural USL season and beyond.

But Levine moved away from Orlando in 2013 and wound up just outside New York City after a brief stay in South Korea. She had moved halfway around the world, then back to one of the sporting capitals of the U.S., but she still loved her Lions. With MLS on the horizon for both Orlando City and the local New York City FC, she knew where her allegiance was.

"It's never crossed my mind to support one of the New York organizations," Levine said. "I've considered going to a game or two just to watch some live soccer, but not for either of the teams specifically. Orlando City did a great job of inserting themselves in the Orlando community in a way that no other team has really ever done."

The team as a rallying point for a city was important for Levine. In stark contrast to the Hudson River Derby and its competition for supporters, Orlando City was a unifying factor for a region. "The Magic have been around since the late '80s and their support is still lukewarm around town but, in a few years, the O.C. front office turned that whole city purple," she added. "Even though I was only in town for the first few years, they turned me into a complete fan and they have my full support."

Levine's story is shared by uprooted Orlandoans all over. It makes sense. The front office has done a great job of creating an emotional connection with the fan base and the club that gives it much more meaning than a team that happens to be closer. It seems you can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the City out of the girl.

Nearly 400 miles away, Kyle Drown was having a similar experience. But where Levine was a young professional from the City Beautiful, Drown was a family man from Buffalo, MO, transplanted just outside Pittsburgh.

"I have barely even been to Central Florida," he says, which is a bit of a shock. Not so much that he is not from Central Florida -- there are plenty of fans that have come for vacation and left with a new favorite team -- but that he came to the conclusion of his own accord. While the club has been targeting tourists on vacation to swing by the stadium for a match, Drown has been an admirer from afar without the marketing ploys. But what turns a man from the Midwest into a fan of a team almost 1,000 miles due south? Drown won't call it destiny, but there's a certain, inexplicable divine providence to it.

"I broke out my PS2 and copy of FIFA 2011 to help with the itch to play soccer in some form," Drown said. "My daughter, who was six at the time, was in the middle of her fall soccer season, joined me in our room to watch me play. We decided to make a franchise. We named it Penn FC, and, I kid you not, when I asked her to design the uniforms -- purple and gold, with the mascot of the lions."

That was in 2014, before Drown knew that Orlando City existed. His daughter's excellent taste in color schemes and predatory animals aside, coincidence seems to be an understatement.

Drown was never really a soccer fan before the 2014 World Cup, where his support for the United States led to a voracious appetite for the game. So after that summer, he found himself several hours from an MLS team.

"I liked some guys I had seen over the few months I had been watching MLS games, but I wasn't sure who to choose as my team," he said. "The ‘hometown' team for me would have been Sporting KC, the childhood hero team was D.C. United, the closest geographic team was Columbus. I wasn't sure, so I started to explore online to get more information."

That exploration led him to a new expansion team that just happened to be purple and gold lions. "That sealed it for me, because it was a team that I felt like I could share with her and she would think it was pretty cool."

Orlando City became a Drown family experience. Like Levine, other MLS teams don't entice him.

"The only contender is Columbus, but I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, so I kind of despise the state of Ohio [...] you know, in a good, friendly, sports-oriented kind of way."

Without the connections to Orlando or even a history of soccer support, Kyle Drown finds himself in the same scenario as Chelsea Levine. They resort to watching streams of matches online if they aren't nationally televised, they watch matches live when they can, and they persist. Drown has yet to catch a live match, but he will try to make it for Orlando City B when they travel up to Pittsburgh later this month. Their support is a testament to the club's reach, both with its city's former residents and the casual observer. While the club has united sports fans in Central Florida, that feeling is not exclusive to the Sunshine State.

There is a seemingly infallible emotional connection with the team and Levine may have put it best when she said, "It's got nothing to do with proximity."