Major League Soccer announced the first home game for each team in 2019. Orlando City will once again begin the season at home as it takes on New York City FC. With this announcement out of the way, we look back at the Lions’ previous eight season openers.
Orlando City won five trophies in its four seasons in the third division USL Pro, so it’s not surprising that the team only had one loss in those openers. Since joining MLS, the team has continued its streak of gathering points in the first game of the year.
The one loss the Lions have suffered when starting a season came on April 2, 2011, in the club’s first league game. It was at City Stadium against the Richmond Kickers where the Lions fell, 2-0. A week later, the Lions returned to the Citrus Bowl where they faced Paul Shaw’s FC New York. In the 43rd minute of the club’s first home opener, Maxwell Griffin scored the club’s first competitive goal.
Over the next two years, the Lions wouldn’t drop another point in either the season or home openers. To start those seasons, they defeated the Charlotte Eagles, 2-0, and Phoenix FC, 3-1, the latter of which saw striker Dom Dwyer score his first goal for the club. In home openers, the Lions beat the Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-1, and Rochester Rhinos, 3-1. The latter of these games would be memorable for the return of Matt Luzunaris, along with a lengthy lightning delay.
In the club’s four years in the USL, Orlando City never started a season at home. Coincidentally, the Lions have yet to start an MLS season on the road. In 2015, the Lions joined first division MLS alongside NYCFC, a joint venture between the City Football Group, owners of Manchester City FC, and the New York Yankees. After the two teams faced off in their first ever MLS game, the league has created the habit of the two facing off in Orlando to start the year, with the third of such opening match-up scheduled for March of 2019. That’ll give the two teams a meeting in Orlando to kick off the season every other year in odd-numbered years (2015, 2017, and 2019) since joining the league together.
In front of 62,510 fans, the two teams took part in a classic opener in 2015, which included an opening goal by Mix Diskerud, a red card given to Aurélien Collin, and a goal by new club captain Kaká a minute into injury time. The two teams met up again two years later to open Orlando City Stadium. Despite the captain going down in the 11th minute, his replacement, Giles Barnes, set up Cyle Larin for the game’s lone goal in the 15th minute.
With eight season openers played, none have been more memorable than 2016, when Orlando City hosted Real Salt Lake. A 26th-minute penalty and 66th-minute goal by Joao Plata appeared to have sealed the win for the visitors and given the Lions their first loss to open a season since 2011. But the Lions made a memorable comeback as Larin scored four minutes into extra time and a long ball for Adrian Winter a minute later saw the Swiss midfielder equalize.
Through eight years of existence, Orlando City has recorded a 3-1-4 record in season openers and a 4-0-4 mark in home openers. Since joining MLS, those records are 1-0-3 to start both the season and the home slate. March 2 will be James O’Connor’s fourth season opener with the club and the first since 2014. Despite coming off a very disappointing season and displaying largely a new group of players, the team will look to continue its successful streak of opening seasons.