Orlando City announced its preseason schedule this week, which included the surprise of a new preseason tournament held at Orlando City Stadium. This is not the first MLS preseason tournament the Lions have taken part in, as they played in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston in 2015, but it’s a return to preseason MLS action in Orlando.
Before Orlando City came into existence in October 2010, the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex the same year. With many teams deciding to train during the preseason in Central Florida, as they still do, the tournament was a way to help those teams prepare for the upcoming season.
The first year of the tournament saw the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC, FC Dallas, and the Houston Dynamo take the field. The following year, heading into its first season in USL Pro, Orlando City replaced the Red Bulls. Acting as hosts, the Lions would only be joined by one other lower division American team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in 2013.
While nearly all of the teams in the tournament were from MLS, there were some foreign participants. In 2012, Swedish side BK Häcken, which Orlando City faced during its first MLS preseason, joined the contest. Two years later, Brazilian side Fluminense’s under-23 team took the field against six MLS sides and the Lions.
In addition to getting to see some quality players, many of whom had played in, or would play in, top European leagues, Orlando City fans also got to see 19 players that went on to wear purple following their appearance in the tournament. Future USL Lions included Erik Ustruck, Austin da Luz, Kyle Davies, Kevin Ellis, C.J. Sapong, Jon Kempin, Mikey Lopez, and Christian Duke. Future MLS Lions included Eric Avila, Brek Shea, Tally Hall, Corey Ashe, Uri Rosell, Aurélien Collin, Justin Meram, Amobi Okugo, Joe Bendik, and Pedro Ribeiro. Dom Dwyer played for Sporting Kansas City in 2012 and went on to play for the Lions in the USL and MLS.
While it was an MLS preseason tournament, meaning that the MLS teams used it as a warm-up for the upcoming regular season, Orlando City came away with two wins, six losses, and two draws over four tournaments. In 2013, the Lions faced the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the consolation game, winning 2-0, with goals by Jamie Watson and Dennis Chin. That game came during a period when the Lions and Rowdies faced off annually in the I-4 Derby.
The new tournament will be much different than the old one for Orlando City fans. With the team playing in the third division and yet to be named an MLS team, it was exciting to see the purple Lions face off against stars from the top division. But this will be the first time the team has played a preseason tournament in Orlando since that time. While it may only be preseason, it should bring back fond memories for longtime fans.