Our City is a weekly column dedicated to the culture surrounding Orlando City, Major League Soccer, and the American soccer landscape.
The opening of a new downtown soccer-specific stadium was one of the highlights of the 2017 Major League Soccer season for Orlando City. The construction of this building was an element tied to the awarding of a club to Orlando. Shifting games from a cavernous American football stadium to the more intimate confines of a purpose-built facility gave supporters in Orlando a fantastic stage in which to watch games.
While the benefits of such a facility are obvious, simply building some stands around a nice patch of grass and hanging some purple banners doesn’t make this new house of soccer a home. Elements like “The Wall,” the spray-painted tunnel, the golden seats spelling Orlando in the upper deck, and the seats dedicated to the victims of the Pulse night club shooting all add meaning.
Collectively, the club has constructed a space in the heart of the city for soccer. Space, by definition, is abstract. We understand that Orlando City Stadium is the home of the Lions because we’ve been told so by the above elements of identification. Still, in the building’s first year, other teams have come in to use the stadium — the United States Men’s National team, the NCAA Women’s College Cup, and the NWSL championship game to name a few. For these events the space for soccer was easily transformed and those of use who had spent a season watching Orlando City, the Pride, or OCB could easily suspend our knowledge.
While Orlando City Stadium is a space for soccer, it isn’t a place for it yet. While space is abstract, place is concrete and drenched in significant meaning. I can mention stadiums like Old Trafford, Anfield, or San Siro and you know exactly the place I’m talking about and may have positive or negative memories according to your allegiances. MLS stadiums like Children’s Mercy Park, BMO Field, Providence Park, or Stade Saputo all are imbued with meaning as significant places of soccer.
This isn’t meant to be a knock against Orlando or the club’s building. Quite the opposite. The above stadiums are significant because they have transpired from spaces to places. From buildings meant to house soccer games to places infused with history and meaning.
Orlando City Stadium is a space in the process of becoming a place. The club moved from the nearby city-owned stadium formerly known as the Citrus Bowl. This was where we watched Sean Kelley become a legend in the 2011 final, where the legend of Dom Dwyer was born, where Kaká scored in front of 62,000 people. While the club and its supporters will never lose those memories, sometimes it feels obvious when you are inside the new stadium that history didn’t happen here.
Orlando City Stadium is a house for soccer, and a beautiful one at that. How the club and the fans interact with the building in the next few seasons will make this space a home.
I write about this today because as the club is in the process of reloading for the 2018 season and as the off-season seemingly drags on a little too slowly, I can’t wait to make Orlando City Stadium our place, our home. We’ve talked so much this off-season about the need for a change and the front-office roster revamp is an indication our demands have been taken seriously. As fans we want trophies, we want rivalry victories, we want nights that drench our stadium in history. The club has built a beautiful house for soccer. We’re ready to make it a home.
What about you? Does Orlando City feel like home yet? What memories do you have of the new stadium so far? What memories are you eager to create this season and beyond?