Our City is a weekly column dedicated to taking a wide-angled lens to the culture that surrounds Orlando City and Major League Soccer.
To the surprise of no one, Orlando City announced it has sold out the season-opening match against NYCFC. In a game that will be a curtain raiser for the club’s new downtown purpose-built soccer stadium, many fans quickly took to social media to complain of feeling locked out of this historic event. For a club that averaged the second highest crowds in Major League Soccer behind the Seattle Sounders, with 31,324, the move to a stadium that seats 25,500 does mean a number of the Orlando City faithful will be left on the outside looking in this season.
The reasons for a smaller soccer-specific stadium have been well documented, but are worth a quick review. During the earliest years of Major League Soccer, the league’s games were generally played in cavernous NFL stadiums, where even impressive crowds of 20,000 looked pathetic in an 80,000-seat arena. This provided low-energy affairs that provided a poor advertisement for the league during televised games. The Columbus Crew built the league’s first purpose-built stadium in 1999 and signaled a new era for the league, which began requiring new clubs to play in stadiums that would provide the right setting to showcase the league and give supporters the best game day experience.
This time has been coming for Orlando City fans since Don Garber first bestowed upon the city a shot at top tier soccer. Despite the club expanding the stadium during the design phase, the club was always going to build a stadium smaller than the crowds it was pulling in during the first two seasons. This stadium will be both sustainable for the club to operate in the long run while creating a beneficial supply and demand situation for the team. None of that makes it easier to those who feel locked out.
The good news is there are still tickets available for most matches this season. We as a fan base may have been spoiled a bit by availability stretching back to the earliest days of the club. While many people had their plans and tickets purchased months in advance, many casual fans were able to check the weather and their social calendar and decide if they wanted to take in a game. I’d venture to guess that approach isn’t going to be too successful this season.
Many of the complaints I’ve encountered have come from families. This is, of course, a very legitimate concern. There are not a lot of families of four who can both afford season tickets while at the same time balance their schedules to accommodate a season’s worth of home games. This concern resonated with me since it was on family outings to soccer games that I was able to fall in love with the game, create fond memories that still stay with me, and — as a young player — learn the game.
If you are a fan with a family on a budget, or just not able to get to an Orlando City game now that tickets are at a premium, consider your other opportunities. Orlando City’s new stadium is also the home of the National Women’s Soccer League’ Orlando Pride and OCB, the club’s USL-based second team.
The Orlando Pride turn out some of the best women’s soccer players in the country and have an energetic core of faithful fans. Multiple USWNT players, including Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger, are featured on the roster. While the OCB roster is still coming into focus this season, the team will feature at least a few Orlando City first-team players looking for experience as well as some potential future stars as well. Further down the ladder, locally, both the UCF and Rollins College have successful and accessible men’s and women’s programs.
While all of these offerings lack the pomp, circumstance, and Kaká of Orlando City, they do provide great accessible and affordable soccer in the City Beautiful.
My family must have attended over a hundred games over the years. We went to college, amateur, and professional games whenever there were games to go to. As a kid, I was fortunate to see players like Pele and George Best play in the old NASL. These aren’t the games I remember though. I remember the games being close up to the field while my parents explained positions and tactics to me. It never mattered what level the teams were, it mattered that we were out enjoying a game together.
If you are feeling locked out as Orlando City moves into slightly smaller surroundings, there’s no reason to cross the live soccer experience off the list with so many good and affordable chances to take the family or a large group of friends to a game this season.
What do you think? Will you be fighting for the last remaining tickets for Orlando City games or checking out some Orlando Pride and OCB games this season? Reach out on Twitter: @KevinIsHistory or comment below. See you in the stands!