On Nov. 19, 2013, USL Pro club Orlando City SC was announced as the 21st expansion side for Major League Soccer. The first team played the 2014 season in the USL before making the jump into the country’s first division. This move provided an advantage for Orlando City, as it was able to build a team with both USL and MLS talent.
The 2014 Lions were a team mixed with players suited for each level. While some players were signed strictly for the USL, others were signed to future MLS contracts and played the 2014 season for the club before the jump to MLS. Some names that became more popular in following years from that team included Kevin Molino, Luke Boden, Darwin Ceren, Tyler Turner, Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding, and Harrison Heath.
Already the most dominant team in the USL after winning the USL Pro Championship and claiming four trophies in three years, the Lions were bound for a historical season. It didn’t take long for Orlando City fans to see just how dominant the roster was.
The team started out with back-to-back 1-1 draws against the Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds before the winning began. The Lions then won their next 15 of 16 games during an 18-game unbeaten streak. While that USL record was eventually topped, it’s still the third-longest unbeaten streak in USL history.
The streak launched Molino into a record-breaking season, allowing the midfielder to claim his second USL MVP award in four years for the club. His first goal came in the third game against the Rochester Rhinos and sparked a hot streak for the Trinidadian. A brace against FC Dallas’ reserve side and a hat trick against the Charlotte Eagles helped Molino become the club’s first ever 20-goal scorer.
The 18-game unbeaten run by the Lions included two rather lengthy winning streaks — the first lasting six games before it was broken by a draw. The team immediately started another streak, winning eight straight before another draw ended the run.
During a season that started on March 22, the Lions didn’t lose their first league game until July 27. The only loss the team suffered before that date was to the Colorado Rapids on June 17. That game took place in Colorado against the Rapids’ first team as MLS teams were on a break for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Once the unbeaten streak was broken, the team’s results leveled off, often alternating between wins and losses. Despite not winning at the rate they were earlier in the season, the Lions ran away with the regular season title, winning the Commissioner’s Cup by seven points over the Sacramento Republic.
It was expected that Orlando City would sweep through the postseason as it did a year prior, claiming the league double for the second time during its final season in the league. But it wasn’t meant to be. In the first round of the USL playoffs, the Lions were frustrated by the defense of the Harrisburg City Islanders and fell 1-0.
While the season didn’t end on the note many fans wanted or expected, it was a season to remember. The Lions ended their USL existence with a fifth trophy in four years, another USL Pro MVP, and a record unbeaten streak.