In October of 2010, Phil Rawlins bought the United Soccer League Pro rights to the city of Orlando, giving the city its first professional soccer team since the 1990s. The 2011 season was the start of a ride that saw the Lions lift five third-division trophies and elevate to MLS. Today, we look back at where Orlando City‘s story began.
The first 10 days of April 2011 saw a young Orlando City squad play its first game and later claim its first win. The team featured a different appearance than today’s, with a red and white palette that first season instead of purple. However, there were several figures who became well known by Orlando City fans during the MLS era, including Adrian Heath, Ian Fuller, Kevin Molino, Luke Boden, and Miguel Gallardo. It was the start of a magical season that saw the club win the double — the Commissioner’s Cup, and the USL Pro Championship
It all started on April 2, 2011, when the Lions traveled to Virginia to take on the Richmond Kickers. It was a tough start against the club that came closest to being Orlando’s rival during the USL era. The Kickers dominated the game in what was a 2-0 victory. If not for the heroics of goalkeeper and team captain Gallardo, it could’ve been much worse.
In the third minute, Gerson dos Santos forced the 26-year-old Mexican to punch the ball out for a corner. Then, 15 minutes later, the hosts nearly took the lead once more when Matthew Delicate found space for a shot on goal. Again, it was Gallardo up to the task to make the save.
Richmond finally broke through in the 39th minute when Ryan Heins was pulled down in the box, forcing referee Mark Gorak to point to the spot. Stanley Nyazamba stepped to the spot and put the penalty away, giving the Kickers the 1-0 lead. It stayed that way for the next 45 minutes as the Lions looked to find a way back in the first league game in club history. However, quick play between Sascha Gorres and Delicate allowed the latter to double the lead with six minutes remaining in the game, clinching the 2-0 win.
A week later, Orlando City returned home to play its first home league game as it welcomed fellow expansion side FC New York in front of 7,933 fans. Interestingly, the visitors that night were coached by Paul Shaw, who went on to become a key member of Orlando City’s academy setup and a television commentator for the club. This game went quite differently than the first and was a sign of what was to come over the next four years.
Both teams had their share of possession in the early moments, with neither really taking control. Late in the half, the Lions scored for the first time in a competitive game in club history. Devorn Jorsling set up Maxwell Griffin, Orlando City’s first real scoring threat, in the 43rd minute for the first league goal.
Breaking through for the first time in a league game seemed to spark the Lions as they took off after halftime. Just nine minutes into the second half, Yordany Alvarez doubled Orlando City’s lead. Lewis Neal then assisted a goal in the 71st minute as Griffin scored his second of the game. The 3-0 win was the first of 67 competitive games in which the Lions came out victorious. It was the first of 40 games that the team won at home from 2011 to 2014. Those 67 wins in 102 games helped Orlando City gather five trophies in four years before moving to MLS in 2015.
Today, Orlando City plays in the first division in one of the finest soccer stadiums in the country. There have been a lot of key moments and many people who have helped the club reach where it is today. But it all started those first 10 days of April in 2011 when the club launched its first season of existence.