Our City is a weekly column devoted to all things Orlando City, Major League Soccer, and the American soccer landscape.
Regular readers of this column might recall an article I wrote a few weeks back contemplating the ESPN+ deal and found it lacking on a few fronts, including the fact that both nationally televised and all home games would be blacked out to the paying, subscribers of the service. This week, Orlando City announced a partnership with YouTubeTV that pretty much fixed every issue I had with the ESPN+ deal.
Tracking back further, I wrote in early December about a lack of “imagination” from the front office on the transfer front. At that point in the off-season, big moves were starting to be made while it seemed Alex Leitão and company were a bit too quiet. The club, of course, nearly flipped the entire roster in one of the most dynamic off-seasons MLS has ever seen. The roster build seems to have found some success and certainly the last thing I would call it would be “unimaginative.”
Of course, my impatient calls for action had absolutely nothing to do with Orlando City’s responses. In both cases, these are situations that took a significant amount of planning, patience, foresight, and careful execution. Undoubtedly the front office staff, if they read my columns, would have had a healthy laugh at my expense, knowing the resolution of my petulant semi-eloquent demands had already been weeks or months in the planning.
Leitão, Jason Kreis, Kay Rawlins, and Flavio Augusto da Silva are seemingly miles ahead of the curve when it comes to both planning and responding to the Orlando City community. At the same time, I won’t stop, can’t stop, demanding. And neither should you.
The reason these club leaders work so hard to anticipate the needs and demands of the club’s supporters has everything to do with the fact that we hold them accountable. In an ideal world, this would really be a local club and we’d all have an ownership stake in it. The modern sports landscape has opted for a capitalist model, meaning our dollars and not our hearts are the most important commodity. That doesn’t mean our voices and our hearts aren’t listened to, there’s just a layer or two of white noise in between.
Orlando City is a modern sports franchise, but it doesn’t mean the democratic values of community, freedom of expression, and cooperation are completely gone. The responses by the front office that anticipate our demands of the club are proof of that.
As supporters, our verbal impatience is positive; it reveals our engagement. The club’s struggles through the first three seasons of life in MLS were narrated in real time on social media, as the club’s supporters weighed in on every aspect of the club, including their frustrations. While it may not always be fun to watch — I’m looking at you Facebook groups — I do believe it plays a significant role.
Rawlins regularly responds to supporters on social media. She may or may not have even roasted me for a practically negative comment on Twitter. Leitão, known for his cryptic eye emojis before big signings, has also publicly acknowledged he follows the Orlando City social media community. Beyond that, club leaders are also community leaders, so they are also engaging us in the real world and are perhaps even more responsive there. The number of community engagement projects the club participates in has always impressed me.
To MLS observers outside of Orlando, our complaints and demands have always seemed a bit premature. How many seasons did it take Toronto FC to make the playoffs for the first time? How long have the New England Revolution been planning on not playing in a cavernous American football stadium?
That said, Orlando City’s unique rise into the MLS ranks have created a different kind of supporter culture here in Florida. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way, even if we do come off as a bit salty sometimes.