It was a day we had been waiting for with great excitement and anticipation. After years of political maneuvering, a momentous decision by club ownership, and a lengthy construction period, Orlando City SC finally opened its brand new soccer stadium in the Parramore district near downtown Orlando.
For years, the political football that was Orlando City’s new soccer-specific stadium was kicked from Orlando to Tallahassee and back multiple times, creating numerous headaches and frustration for Flavio Augusto da Silva, Phil Rawlins, and all of Lion Nation. After two whiffs in the state capital, Da Silva took matters into his own hands in May of 2015 and decided to privately fund the new venue — which had already broken ground the previous October — raising the capacity from 19,500 to more than 25,000 in the process.
From that point on, it was just a matter of finishing the construction. It seemed to take forever to clear the land, dig out the retention pond, and show any semblance of steel girders going up. But, little by little, the stadium rose above Parramore. Although it wasn’t quite 100% operational as the 2017 season approached, and there was still plenty of construction debris in the area, Major League Soccer coaxed the Lions into hosting an opening day game against fellow 2015 expansion side New York City FC.
It was a great day for soccer back on March 5 as the supporters marched down Church Street and the purple-clad throngs slowly melted off the streets and into Orlando City Stadium. It was a proud day, an exciting day, and the joy was palpable. This was our own stadium. Our own perfectly manicured pitch. It wasn’t a rental meant to host football games on artificial turf with a mostly empty cavernous upper deck.
Sure, there would be no 60,000+ crowd on this, the third opening day in Orlando City’s MLS tenure. This was a more intimate setting with a more modest capacity. But you could feel the electricity as clearly as any of the larger crowds at the old Citrus Bowl.
The day began with a great deal of pregame ceremony, including remarks from Da Silva, Rawlins, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. This was followed by an all-star tifo by the Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm. The caption was fitting — “A gift from the gods.” The new stadium was that.
The game had hardly begun when the first warning sign of 2017 hit. Team captain Kaká went down and didn’t get up. Just 11 minutes into the season, Kaká was subbed off due to injury, ushering in Giles Barnes’ debut as a Lion. Just minutes after his introduction, Barnes crossed a perfect ball to the back post for Cyle Larin to nod home for the first goal in stadium history.
To say the stadium went nuts would be an understatement. It was unbelievable. The euphoric roar from 25,527 souls poured down from the purple seats onto the field and reverberated back up under the roofing on all sides of the pitch to create a cacophony of joyous noise that seemed to lift the entire building 10 feet off the ground. It was purple madness.
That was sadly all the offense the hosts could muster, but in the end it was enough. Even though the visitors were the more dangerous side much of the day, the electric crowd spurred greatness out of the back line and goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who was unbeatable that day. After 90 minutes, the final whistle blew on a 1-0 Orlando City victory and just as it seemed the noise level couldn’t go any higher, it did.
Rather than in my usual press box seat, I chose to ride out that inaugural game in OCS history in The Wall. I’m glad I did. It was a historic and euphoric night for Orlando City. It was the culmination of years of hard work by club ownership and local support from people like Mayor Dyer, fans, staff, and, eventually, private investors, architects, and construction crews.
And it was absolutely the most magical moment of 2017 for Orlando City SC.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our countdown of Orlando City's top 10 moments of 2017. If you missed any, catch them at the links below.
10. Orlando City trounces New England Revolution, 6-1.
9. Orlando Pride clobbers Sky Blue FC, 5-0.
8. OCB’s impressive 12-game unbeaten streak through the summer of 2017.
7. Orlando City adds Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter to the defense.
6. Veteran USWNT defender Ali Krieger joins the Orlando Pride’s starting XI.
5. Orlando Pride sign Brazilian superstar Marta prior to the 2017 NWSL season.
3. Orlando City makes summer transfer window splash by signing Dom Dwyer and Yoshimar Yotun.
2. Orlando Pride makes club history by clinching the team’s first ever playoff berth.