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Opening Night in Orlando City’s Safe Standing Section

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Orlando City built its new stadium with a special place for the club’s supporters — a safe standing “Wall.” Here’s what it’s like to watch from there.

“What’s the deal with this safe standing thing?”

I pondered this after years of going to Orlando City matches. Yes, there were times the supporters stood, and other times when the vast majority sat. We stood and cheered, we sat and chanted or sang. The experience was great under all of those conditions.

So, it was with great curiosity that I wondered why anyone would choose to buy a ticket in a section without seats. I decided to find that out in Orlando City’s opening match against New York City FC.

I met up before the game with former Mane Land writers Andrew Harrison and Luis Hernandez. We made our way from the Broken Cauldron brewery on Church Street, walked east to Orlando City Stadium, then north to our gate to enter on the safe standing section side.

The wait to get in was a bit long, owing to all fans passing through metal detectors at the entrance. It moved a bit slower than expected, but eventually we were in. Upon presenting our tickets for scanning, we received red wristbands. I asked if that was good for free beer. The stadium worker said it was but he somehow didn’t seem sincere. I think it was to note that we were in the supporters’ section.

Andrew and I got separated from Luis and his friend during bathroom breaks and we wandered up into the supporters’ section. We picked a good central location only to be told by a fan that he was “saving those spots” for friends who had not yet arrived. I got a laugh at the idea of saving seats in a seat-less section, but told Andrew we should go up higher, so we did.

A couple rows from the very top, we found an area and staked it out as our own. Luis and his friend re-discovered us and another former TML writer, Wade Williams, turned up with a friend of his. It was a reunion of sorts.

The first thing you notice in the supporters section is how gorgeous the facility is. Looking around at the purple seats and the green grass, it’s an aesthetically pleasing building. We had plenty of time before kickoff, so we just looked around and enjoyed the atmosphere.

It’s somewhat steep but you don’t feel any vertigo. The building isn’t really that high. But the top of the safe standing section definitely allows you to watch the entire play develop from sideline to sideline and all the way down the pitch. As we watched warm-ups, we definitely had the sense that virtually nothing could happen on the pitch that we wouldn’t see.

The section filled quickly as game time approached and up at the top it seemed we had more room to move than those lower in the section. Had we been packed in, we still would have had plenty of room. This is how much room you have to stand in the safe standing section:

It’s more room than it appears.

Once filled in, the place was loud. I don’t know if it was just our section, because my impression was that the entire building was significantly louder than anything I’ve heard at the Citrus Bowl/Camping World Stadium during a City game. The drums do give the safe standing section a bit more volume and you tend to feel the drums more than you hear them because they sort of blend into the din.

The aluminum floor provides added volume when you jump and stomp on it. That becomes apparent the first time you try it. Suddenly, there’s a second layer of volume as everyone starts jumping and stomping. I expected the stands to shake but it never felt shaky or unstable in any way.

As evening fell and the lights came on, the entire place seemed to glow, accentuating everything — the green of the pitch, the purple in the stands, the volume of the sound, and the oohs and ahhs from the crowd as the game ebbed and flowed.

As the game wound to a close, the buzz of the crowd grew even more, with everyone willing the team to hang on to the slim, one-goal advantage over New York City FC. And when the final whistle blew, you couldn’t even hear it. But you saw the assistant referees run onto the field and the entire place erupted yet again in celebration. After hugs and high fives all around, I remembered — a bit belatedly — to try to capture the moment, which was already past to some degree.

Yeah, not landscaped. I’m disappointed in myself too.

What wasn’t disappointing was a single moment of the match. For an old guy like me, with flat feet, no less, I worried that standing all game long would do me in. It didn’t. The 90 minutes flew by and at no point did I miss sitting. We jumped. We chanted. We sang. We stomped. We danced. And, in the end, we celebrated.

Moments after I shot the video above, the entire team came over to salute us, in a nice, touching moment.

Following that, no one really wanted to leave but the celebration continued down the stairs, out through the gate and down the street. Egress from the stadium was quick and painless, and I was home about half an hour after the final whistle, greeting my wife and daughter with my croaking, abused voice.

Orlando City’s safe standing section is something every Lions fan should experience at least once.