There are certain events in the history of Orlando City Soccer Club that stand out. The announcement of the team in 2010, the two USL championships in 2011 and 2013, and the first MLS game in 2015 are three popular ones. But today is an important date in club history as it is the seventh anniversary of the first-ever game for the club.
On a beautiful Saturday night, the newly arrived Lions, dressed in white shirts, white shorts, and red socks, took to the field for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Union. The night would feature the club’s first game, first goal, first clean sheet, and first win.
The Lions got off to a good start when the Union went down to 10 men in the 17th minute, as Colombian defender Carlos Valdes was sent off for taking down striker Maxwell Griffin. The referee, Andrew Chapin, appeared to point to the spot at first before declaring the foul just outside the box. Lewis Neal, who was just beginning his American career after joining from Shrewsbury Town in England, stepped up to take the free kick. Taking the kick from the right of goal, Neal placed the left-footed shot in the top right corner past the diving Colombian international goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon, for the club’s first ever goal.
The most dangerous player for the Union was the first overall draft pick from a year earlier, Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga. The Zaire native had several opportunities to equalize for the Union, especially in the first half, with chances in the 31st and 43rd minutes. However, both chances were off target, allowing the Lions to enter the halftime break with a 1-0 advantage. Four years later, Mwanga would take part in four games for the 2015 Lions during their first year in MLS.
The second half would see most of the chances coming for the Union, but backup goalkeeper Sean Kelley, who would become the hero of the 2011 USL Pro Championship Game, was able to hold the MLS side at bay. Combining with starter Miguel Gallardo, the two goalkeepers claimed the club’s first ever clean sheet.
The night was a memorable one not just for the 3,600 fans in attendance, but for Central Florida, as it was the start of something big. The club went on to win five trophies in four years and draw crowds that had yet to be seen in the third division. Less than three years later, the club was announced as MLS’s newest expansion side.
Interestingly, playing the Union around the time of that first game was something Orlando City carried over to future years. In 2012, the two sides faced off at the Citrus Bowl on Feb. 18, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Two years later, they played on the third anniversary of that inaugural game, again drawing 1-1, at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.
As Orlando City continues to build its history, it’s good to look back at what started it all. Despite the announcements and news surrounding the starting of the club, it became a reality on that Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl. Little did the players, staff, front office, or fans realize what would follow that night.