Our City is a weekly column dedicated to taking a wide-angled lens to the culture that surrounds Orlando City and Major League Soccer.
The schedule makers didn’t accidentally send NYCFC to Florida for the second season opener in three years. While I’m sure the Citizens will enjoy an early season trip to sunny, mild Central Florida, their appearance is not a coincidence. They like a bit of drama and wanted to provide a nice match-up for our “homecoming” game.
If you will remember back, and how could you forget, it was NYCFC that helped kick off our first Major League Soccer season in front of 62,510 at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. It took a dramatic late, and lucky, free kick from Kaká to save a point. It was enough to send the supporters home with a smile, but that bouncy ricocheting free kick sort of symbolized the rest of that season and the next — not always pretty, sometimes kind of lucky, and enough to not lose but not win.
As we revisit our inaugural season rivals, NYCFC, we can’t help but pull out the measuring stick to see how the two stack up with their respective third seasons set to begin. While Orlando City has struggled, barely missing the playoffs twice, NYCFC seems to have it figured out. NYCFC was competitive last season, seeming to find its form when it mattered, and making the playoffs in the club’s second season.
Face it, as beautiful as our city looks dressed in purple, as amazing as our supporters have been, and as fantastic as the stadium will be, we’ve stumbled on the field. “Man City Lite” has done everything we haven’t, even if the team had to do it within the odd dimensions of a baseball stadium. They have done things so well in their first two MLS seasons that I’d doubt if any NYCFC fans or front office staff honestly thought much of this game as a rivalry anymore. Undoubtedly they have to feel like they have left Orlando City behind.
For Orlando, it needs to mean everything. While many preseason predictions have the Lions missing the playoffs for a third season, NYCFC seems to be very much in the hunt for all available trophies. For Orlando to compete this season, the Lions need to take that personally and play to defy the critics.
It feels Orlando City has done everything “right” in terms of team management. Today’s stadium opening is another massive piece in a huge Central Florida jigsaw puzzle. A massive training academy that has been in development since the earliest of our USL days, an Orlando City “B” team playing locally to give young players professional experience, and the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League have all come together over the past few years. An impressive training complex planned for Lake Nona will be just one more part in what has become an impressive American soccer organization.
As NYCFC enters its third season in Yankee Stadium, the team’s stadium plans seem to be on the same timeline as Miami’s Beckham FC. They have built a modest training academy and partnered with USL clubs instead of creating their own second team. Even NYCFC’s PR department feels second rate when you look at the slick productions that are constantly flowing from Orlando City’s.
At the end of the day, none of that matters if Orlando doesn’t give the supporters what they crave — wins, playoffs, and trophies. We will see NYCFC as expansion rivals for a few more seasons, and in those seasons the Lions need to put goals and wins where their impeccable organizational planning has been.
Without taking anything away from the celebratory nature of today, the seasons of hope have passed. The Orlando City supporters have made today. The work of Phil & Flavio, of Kreis and Kaká would all be for naught had the supporters not shown up en masse to believe in the club. Today, this season, is all about making the dream come true on the field.
That starts with beating NYCFC — rivalry or not.
What do you think? Do you think NYCFC is a rival? Has Orlando City fallen behind the New York club after two seasons in MLS? Reach out on Twitter: @KevinIsHistory or comment below. See you in the stands!