This evening Exploria Stadium will welcome the United States Men’s National Team for the third time in just over two years. The purple palace previously hosted the USMNT for a World Cup qualifying game in 2017, and a friendly earlier this year. Hosting big events is obviously a good thing for the club, and the city itself, but the frequency with which Exploria Stadium is hosting USMNT games is a particularly good thing for all parties involved.
First and foremost, international matches (especially competitive ones) provide exposure for Orlando City Soccer Club and for the city of Orlando. Running snag-free events like the two previous games looks good for OCSC and the city and makes it more likely that big events will continue to come to The City Beautiful. Successfully staging international matches has also taken on added importance since the announcement that the U.S. will be a joint host of the 2026 World Cup. Orlando is pushing hard to be named as a host city, and while matches would take place at Camping World Stadium, it’s great for the city to be able to show that it’s up to the challenge of hosting international events.
A successful game from an administrative standpoint isn’t the only thing that’s important though. After all, there’s a soccer game to be played, and so far the USMNT is 2-0 in matches played at Exploria Stadium. The 2017 World Cup qualifying match was a resounding 4-0 thumping of Panama, and March’s friendly against Ecuador ended in a 1-0 win for the good guys. After the Panama game in particular, there was vocal praise for the level of support from the sellout crowd at then-Orlando City Stadium. Former coach Bruce Arena and several players on the field that night praised the atmosphere and voiced the opinion that the stadium could potentially become a fortress for the team in the future.
While it probably shouldn’t be read into too much, I do think its worth noting that the USSF decided to host a must-win game for the USMNT at Exploria Stadium. Following last month’s 2-0 defeat in Toronto, the Yanks have to get a win if they want to have a chance at advancing to the knockout rounds of the Concacaf Nations League. It’s a situation not too dissimilar from the one the U.S. found itself in the last time it played a competitive match in Orlando. The U.S. needed a win in order to stay alive in qualification for the 2018 World Cup, and while the Red, White & Blue would eventually fall short of its ultimate goal, it certainly didn’t have any problem getting the job done in Orlando. It’s entirely possible that the people in charge remembered what happened in Orlando the last time the U.S. had to get a win, and decided to come back for a second bite at the apple.
With all of these things in mind, I’ll be very interested to see how things play out in the future should the U.S. walk away with a victory tonight, especially if the team has a strong showing. Should the team play well and get the win, I don’t think it’s absurd to say that I would expect to see competitive matches hosted in Orlando on a more regular basis. While the venue and support obviously aren’t the only factors in a team doing well, they certainly don’t hurt — as mentioned previously, the players on the pitch stated just how much the atmosphere in Orlando helped them, especially when compared to the previous game in Red Bull Arena, a match that was characterized in part by very vocal Costa Rican support and ended in a 2-0 loss for the Americans.
In short, if the U.S. take care of business tonight, expect Exploria Stadium to start getting a lot more love on the international stage.