Our City is a weekly column dedicated to the culture surrounding Major League Soccer and soccer in the United States.
I have, in the past, been critical of the mid-season meaningless friendly. Orlando City especially seemed to schedule some bizarre match-ups that were disruptive to the season and not lucrative in the stands. This Saturday’s charity friendly against the Puerto Rican National Team is exactly the opposite of those horrible midseason games.
Coming on the heels of a very disappointing MLS season, and, more importantly, after the devastation by Hurricane Maria, this event will raise money for the island's recovery. Most of the island is still without power and the situation on the ground seems to only improve by small increments every day.
This event will allow the substantial local Puerto Rican community to show support for their island home while at the same time cheering on a team representing them. The only thing worse than being in a disaster, is having to watch as a place you have deep connections to suffers through one and you are far away, unable to help your friends and family. A chance to support your national team in a time of crisis will help heal and help the local Puerto Rican community, while at the same time raising money and awareness of the continuing challenges the island has in the recovery.
On the Orlando side of the stands, we as fans of a struggling team could use a bit of a celebration — a chance to move on from an embarrassing season and remind ourselves of the things that make our club special. The team’s ability to reach out to the community and provide a place for people to come together and heal after tragedy is well documented. Orlando supporters will have one more chance to pull on the purple, wear a scarf when its (almost) scarf weather in Florida, and support the Lions one last time until next spring. Of course, we will also have one last chance to see Kaká take the field, as this will be his last game in purple.
The Puerto Rican National Team is a bit of a misnomer, as the island is technically a territory of the United States — a political middle ground between statehood and independence. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Traditionally, Puerto Rico is a baseball powerhouse, owing to its colonial ties to the United States that began in 1898, when the island was invaded by the Americas as part of the Spanish-American War. While Caribbean islands with ties to the British and the Dutch are soccer-mad countries, islands where the United States staked a claim tended to embrace baseball more.
The Puerto Rican National Team began play in 1940 when it played Cuba to a 1-1 draw. The team itself has a very turbulent past, with long periods without games. Most of the team’s competition has come through attempts at World Cup and Caribbean Cup qualifying. Chicago Fire legend and current Red Bulls assistant Chis Armas played five games for Puerto Rico in 1993, but was allowed to play for the United States National Team since those games were all considered friendlies. Current Orlando City back-up goalkeeper Josh Saunders was capped twice for the islanders in 2008.
The team traveling to Orlando features two players from the USL, two that play in Finland and Sweden, and a host of local players from various clubs on the island, including the NASL’s Puerto Rico FC.
On the Orlando side of the ball, besides Kaká, I imagine Jason Kreis will use this as a last chance to give struggling players a chance to impress and evaluate the younger talent on the roster.
I’m personally looking forward to this game. I think the timing and cause are perfectly positioned to make this a fantastic friendly.
What do you think of this friendly? Are you expecting to go? Ready to give your support to Orlando one last time this season, or have you had enough already no matter the noble cause?