With Orlando City traveling to clash with Sporting Kansas City tonight, many focus on the return of Dom Dwyer to face the club that drafted him into MLS. But it’s also the Lions facing off with the MLS team with which they have the most history.
Orlando City’s history with Sporting Kansas City goes back to the end of the 2011 season, the club’s first in existence. After completing the USL Pro double, midfielder Lawrence Olum was sent to one of MLS’ original teams. It would be the first transfer between two teams that would later become partners.
Following the 2012 season, Orlando City sent a second player out to Kansas City in defender Mechack Jerome. After leading the Lions to three trophies in two years, Olum and Jerome remained in Kansas City for the next two years, helping the team win the 2013 MLS Cup.
Heading into the 2013 season, the two clubs created an affiliation, agreeing that SKC’s loans would head east to Orlando. The Lions benefited greatly that season with the acquisition of goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defenders Kevin Ellis and Yann Songo’o, midfielder Christian Duke, and forward Dom Dwyer. Later in that season, C.J. Sapong went on a brief loan to the Lions.
The five initial loans played a key part for the Lions in 2013, contributing greatly to the club’s second USL Pro championship. Miguel Gallardo, who had been Orlando City’s number one since 2011, began the season injured and Kempin filled in admirably, allowing the Lions to get off to a good start to the season. Though his loan ended at the end of June, Songo’o provided a terrific three months for the Lions, partnering with Rob Valentino in the league’s best center back tandem. Ellis and Duke had slightly less of an impact than the others, but still played key roles during the season.
The most impactful player on loan that year was Dwyer. The striker only made one MLS appearance during his rookie season before being sent on loan to Orlando City in 2013. It was in the City Beautiful that he made his name, scoring 15 goals in 13 league games and adding three U.S. Open Cup goals. After spending the second half of the season back in Kansas, Dwyer returned for the USL Pro championship game. He netted the first four goals in a 7-4 victory, the first of two league titles that season for Dwyer.
Following its acceptance into MLS on Nov. 19, 2013, Orlando City terminated its affiliation with Sporting Kansas City, even though the club had Mikey Lopez on loan the following season, its final in USL Pro. Transfers between the two clubs would continue when the Lions entered MLS, with Aurelien Collin joining the Lions in 2015 and Dwyer returning permanently to the Lions in 2017. Orlando City’s first MLS season also experienced a player for player trade with Amobi Okugo heading west in exchange for Servando Carrasco. Though he spent four years in Portugal in between, Oriol Rosell played for Sporting Kansas City before joining the Lions this season.
Orlando City’s connection with Sporting Kansas City is long-lasting, connecting the Lions’ USL era with the team’s MLS era. Transfers between the two clubs go back to Orlando City’s first-ever season and have continued to this day. So when the Lions take the field tonight at Children’s Mercy Park, it will be with the club with which it shares the more history.