I sat down to write this column on Saturday, a few hours before I headed down to Orlando City Stadium to see the Lions take on the Montreal Impact. It’s been a almost a month since I’ve been to a game. It’s been more than a month since Orlando City has won one in Major League Soccer. My team doesn’t have a coach and doesn’t seem to have much direction right now at the end of a what has become a seven-game losing streak. Despite everything, I was excited to head down to the stadium last night.
I knew it was going to be a hot humid night. There was a significant chance of thunderstorms. I won’t be dissuaded. I’m always excited to be heading out to see my home team play.
These aren’t the situations that create good copy for sports marketing and team officials eager to sell season tickets and excitement. A game between a coachless team on a long unending losing streak against another struggling club isn’t the kind of game you invite your friends to in an effort to convert them into a supporter. This game is for those of us who have already bought in with all our hearts.
I didn’t expect things to go well for Orlando City. They didn’t look sharp in a must-win game in Canada before the World Cup break against the same team. I expected the string of bad results, being coachless, and the weather could all conspire to make Orlando City Stadium a little quieter. That notable roar that begins in The Wall and echoes throughout the rest of the grounds would be softer. And even though I didn’t expect it to be the same, I couldn’t wait to get there.
I couldn’t wait to get to the stadium because I’ve never claimed “City til things get difficult and challenging.” I’m not naive. I can see the dark clouds circling my club and they have very little chance of clearing up this season, and honestly probably not next season either. Once a new coach arrives, he will make due with what is here, he will make a few moves in the next transfer window, and, come January, we will hear another master plan for how the new coach will build a roster to his liking — one that he believes can take Orlando City to the postseason finally. That’s just the reality.
So many of us brag about being there for the USL glory days, for the excitement of those two USL finals, for big wins against Newcastle in a friendly or the Colorado Rapids in the U.S. Open Cup. Years from now, you’ll brag about how you endured these seasons of mediocrity and malaise. Supporting isn’t for the bandwagoneers or the soft-hearted. When you open your heart to a club, you invite suffering. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you season tickets.
I was excited for last night because this is everything I’ve ever wanted and I’ll never love another team as much as I love this one. This is my team, your team, our team; not some club from a famous European city you couldn’t even find on a map. This team, for all the shortcomings, misfires, and mistakes, is mine. I can’t wait to get to the stadium because I love Orlando, I love this community, and I love the team that has done so much to fuse civic pride and the sport I love.
As for this season, it would be wholly disingenuous for me to suggest any story line that doesn’t end in disappointment. Whatever happens, we are in for another summer of challenges as the team continues to search for the formula that will bring winning ways back to Orlando. And when that day comes, when the club I love lifts a trophy — be it this season or in a distant future — I’ll know my support never wavered. Like any love, you give everything you have without the promise that it will ever be returned. It is the act of loving that matters most.