Our City is a weekly column dedicated to the culture surrounding Orlando City, Major League Soccer, and American soccer in general.
As Orlando City slumped to a second straight loss yesterday in New York, the social media banter from New York City FC and Atlanta United FC fans fell heavy on the frustrated Orlando city support. Three games into the season, its been difficult to be excited about much we’ve seen from the Lions on the field. As these social media exchanges go, the topic quickly turned to history. More accurately, Orlando City’s success in USL and the numerous trophies they have accumulated compared to the newer NYCFC and Atlanta United. Predictably, the fans of the newer clubs don’t hold much respect for what Orlando City did before the team entered MLS.
While I didn’t engage in the unwinnable debate, it did get me thinking. As a historian, I’m prone to looking at the big picture of soccer in the United States. I began applying this erasure of anything that occurred before a team entered MLS to other clubs. To try to forget that the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Seattle Sounders have been playing each other for since the 1970s across various leagues. That the Montreal Impact has bounced between various leagues to maintain some semblance of continuance from the team that began playing in 1992. That Minnesota United FC used lower league success to bring its team into Major League Soccer, much as Orlando City had.
To imagine that the legacy of clubs prior to their arrival in MLS simply doesn’t matter is unimaginative and damaging to the larger landscape of American soccer. History matters. History provides a legitimacy that even the best marketing can never replicate. History provides foundational memories that create a larger community experience.
Most Orlando City supporters know that the club repurposed the lion logo from earlier iterations of the Orlando Lions who played in the 1980s and 1990s. It was meant to provide both a link to the past and an homage to those players who hoped to create a lasting legacy of soccer in Central Florida. The USL supporters’ shields and championships are well known to even the casual Orlando City supporter, and most of us have our own memories and links to those glory days. Any attempt by opposing fans to minimize or erase the history of Orlando City is simply an attempt to delegitimize our club and its supporters.
I would, given a chance to bend the ears of fans of the newly created clubs like NYCFC and Atlanta United, argue they should look into their own cities’ soccer legacy and ask their club’s front office to honor those who have paved the way for soccer in their communities. While New York City’s soccer history is more celebrated, both cities have roots that reach back into the 1800s with the game. I had hoped MLS would utilize the established legacies of the New York Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks, but for a multitude of reasons too complex to delve into here, they did not.
Ten or 20 years from now these arguments won’t matter, as the clubs will all have developed a more detailed and dynamic history. Just as whatever happens in those years will become an important part of the identity of Atlanta and New York supporters, Orlando’s success in the USL will always be a part of ours.
What do you think? Do you support another club with an important history? Do you think it matters in American soccer?