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Orlando City’s Confusing History

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American soccer’s structure makes tracking a club’s history very tricky. That includes the history of Orlando City SC.

Orlando City original USL Pro logo

History and tradition play a big part of soccer clubs around the world. How long clubs have been in existence, along with how many trophies they’ve won, are touted by the most famous of clubs. But, due to America's odd setup, mainly led by MLS's single-entity structure, it's not as simple.

If you follow MLS at all, you've probably seen or heard the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, or San Jose Earthquakes dating their history back to the old NASL of the 1970s and 1980s. This history claimed by the club's fans, and sometimes the clubs themselves, is used as a badge of honor. Despite having the same name, those teams have gone through different leagues and different incarnations that make tracing their history much more complicated.

Making things even more muddled is the fact that MLS inexplicably runs as a single-entity structure. This means that the league actually owns all of the teams, and then investors purchase the right to operate said teams. So any team that makes its way from the USL to MLS, such as the Timbers, Sounders, Orlando City, Montreal Impact, and Vancouver Whitecaps, are legally separate entities from the incarnation that existed in the previous league.

This is why there is so much confusion over the history of where teams came from. It can be argued that Orlando City started in 2007, 2010, or 2015. It can also be argued that the USL version of Orlando City is either in Orlando, Louisville, or is non-existent.

After operating the Austin Aztex organization from 2007-2010, Phil Rawlins moved his outfit to Orlando. But it wasn't actually the Aztex that moved. Rawlins purchased the rights that had already been granted by USL (called USSF Division 2 Professional League or D2 Pro League at that time) to Steve Donner, owner of the now-defunct Orlando Titans indoor lacrosse team.

Orlando City would go on to win five trophies over the next four seasons, and on Nov. 19, 2013, was announced as the 21st expansion team of Major League Soccer. But rather than simply giving up the USL rights, Orlando City transferred the rights to minority owner Wayne Estopinal, who planned to start a new USL team in Louisville, KY. That team became Louisville City FC.

So how far back does Orlando City's history go? Some would say that the Austin Aztex were relocated to Orlando in 2010, making them the same club, even though the rights remained in Austin. Others would say that the club started in 2010, when Donner was originally granted the city's USL rights, even though those rights are now Louisville City FC. Legally, the club started in 2015 as a new club in MLS, even though the organization had already been playing in the same city for a number of years.

American soccer's convoluted setup has been criticized for years, especially now that there is somewhat of a pyramid. But it's not just on-the-field that gets confusing by the structure. It's also the history of the teams that jump between leagues.

Since there doesn't seem to be a consensus, what do you think Orlando City's history looks like? Were Rawlins' original Austin Aztex the origin of the club? Did the club launch in 2010? Or did the club start when the Lions entered MLS? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.