During Orlando City’s 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday night, two Lions reached milestones. Joe Bendik equaled Miguel Gallardo’s goalkeeper record of league appearances at 81 and surpassed the former City number one by breaking 7,200 minutes. In the consuming world of American soccer, should we combine statistics from the USL and MLS era? Why is that important?
To understand why this would be an issue to begin with, you have to look at the American soccer system and Orlando City’s history in it. Major League Soccer is a single-entity system, meaning that all teams are owned by the league. Each team has operators who purchase the rights to operate the team on behalf of the league.
Orlando City was founded on Oct. 25, 2010, when Phil Rawlins purchased the USL rights to Orlando from Steve Donner, owner of the defunct indoor lacrosse team, the Orlando Titans. Bringing over some members of the front office and playing staff from the team he started in Austin, TX, Orlando City SC began play in USL Pro in 2011. Unlike MLS, the team was owned by Rawlins and his investors. When the Lions moved to MLS in 2015, the USL Orlando City team officially relocated to Louisville, KY and was renamed Louisville City FC.
While the team technically relocated and a brand new team was added to MLS, Orlando City was in every other way the same club in 2015 that played in the USL Pro a year earlier. The ownership, front office, and several players remained with the club. Just as important, the club retained its strong fan base that had grown over the previous four seasons.
Orlando City doesn’t have a long history, only existing for four seasons prior to joining MLS in 2015. However, unlike big city MLS teams that are sprouting up as first division teams, the club does have some history. Players like Gallardo, Rob Valentino, and Jamie Watson, among many others, were crucial to getting the club into MLS. They did interviews, went to events, and met with fans to help promote the club, even though they likely weren’t paid for much of it and wouldn’t make the MLS squad. It’s important to remember the sacrifice that these players made because it’s a huge reason why the club plays where it does today.
To many fans, especially those that weren’t around during the USL era, it may seem ridiculous to care about the statistics of the USL days. But those players are just as much a part of the club as anyone during the MLS era. Obviously, it’s difficult to compare statistics when some players played for the club in the third division and others have played for the club in the first division. But those statistics should still be considered, if nothing else, out of respect for the former players of the club. Besides, including lower division statistics isn’t uncommon.
Regardless of the game, history is important to sports teams and their fans. Loyal followers of the team like to know about record holders such as most goals or appearances. Many may dismiss statistics from the lower leagues and claim that only top division records should be counted. But, in addition to honoring the players that got the club to its current status, this would contradict the way statistics are held across the world.
During the 2017-18 Premier League season, Argentine striker Sergio Agüero broke Manchester City’s all-time record of goals scored of 177, previously held by Eric Brook. This record received great attention due to the club’s recent success and explosion in popularity. While all of Agüero’s goals were scored in England’s top flight, Brook spent his first and final season at the club in England’s second division, where he scored 13 goals. That didn’t stop anyone from setting Agüero’s mark to beat at 177 goals.
Another consideration is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Each year, the club plays games against teams in lower divisions. This year, the club’s fourth-round opponent was Miami United FC of the fourth tier NPSL. During Orlando City’s four years in the third division, the Lions never played a team lower than the fourth tier PDL, meaning last Wednesday night’s game was a larger gap in divisions than the club had ever seen.
With the club’s entry into MLS in 2015, it may be common for people to dismiss the USL era and any records that may have been set at that time. The point of this is not to claim that the level of competition was the same, or even close to what the players are facing now, but simply that certain records, such as goals scored or Luke Boden’s appearance record, should be remembered, respected, and upheld. Eventually, all records set during that era will be broken and as the years go by, those four years will be a distant memory. But for now, the club and its fans owe it to those players to include their accomplishments. After all, this wouldn’t even be a discussion without them.