With Orlando City off for the international break, I thought I should take a moment to look back on my trip down to Orlando for Orlando City’s U.S. Open Cup victory over Sacramento Republic FC. For our readers who also listen to The Mane Land PawedCast, some of this isn’t new, but it is more fully fleshed out.
Following Orlando City’s 5-1 drubbing of the New York Red Bulls to earn a spot in the final, I knew that my wife and I were going to make the trip. As it turned out, the match was on a Wednesday night. That might seem to be less than ideal for the average traveler, but it perfectly aligned with my normal work schedule, allowing for me to not even have to take a vacation day to make it happen.
Friend of the Pod (a regular listener of the PawedCast) Lee Gavlick generously reached out to me and assisted with getting the two tickets I needed. As a bonus, we had the pleasure of sitting with Lee and another Friend of the Pod, David Victor, and their friends and family. It was an absolute pleasure meeting them all and enjoying the entire evening together. I’ve come to matches before, but this time was different because of the hospitality of Lee and David.
Our seats were on the south side of the stadium in Section 5, Row B — just to the left of the goal when facing the pitch. We had no idea how lucky this would be as the match started. Like everyone else, we were frustrated that Orlando City wasn’t able to get a goal in the first half. I was doubly frustrated since one of my keys to victory on the PawedCast was that Orlando City scored early, and scored often. Allowing Sacramento to stay close would give the Republic confidence as it did in the other matches Sacramento played to get to the final.
As we all know now, my worries were for nothing, with the Lions scoring three second-half goals to secure their first trophy of the MLS era. I’m a man of science and reason, but as Michael Scott said in The Office, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” I am choosing to believe that Orlando City waited for the second half to score so that we had the perfect seats to see all three goals and the accompanying celebrations. I’m also choosing to believe that Benji Michel had the night he did because he received The Mane Land PawedCast “bump” since we interviewed him in the days before the match.
Like many, we lingered and watched the team raise the trophy, though our view wasn’t as good as it was for the goals. Eventually, we made our way out, went to get some food — I was starving — and to enjoy the warm glow of victory. We were even joined by my podcast partner and managing editor of The Mane Land, Michael Citro, and former Mane Land contributor Austin David. It was a night that none of us shall ever forget.
Of course, it didn’t end that night — or very early morning — for my wife and I. Our checkout time at the hotel was 11 a.m., and that gave us just enough time to have a nice brunch before making our way to Orlando City Hall for the official celebration at noon. It was hot, and the music was very loud, but I’m so glad we delayed our departure to take in that last bit of celebration.
Seeing those who I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with or meeting receiving the recognition for a job well done reminded me that there are a lot of people working to make the club something worthy of the supporters. My conversation with Jarrod Dillon early in the season provided insight into the direction that the club is going. Interviews with players, coaches, and staff on the PawedCast show the club’s willingness to engage with our community.
Indeed, my true purpose in writing this piece is to highlight the sense of community I have experienced surrounding this club. I feel a part of the club in a way I suspect most supporters feel. I also have a sense of community with the other supporters, whether that is dancing and singing in the stands during a match, or engaging in online conversations. Then there is the camaraderie and friendship I feel with my fellow staffers here at The Mane Land. I have been a part of this group for over seven years at this point, and I am grateful to be so lucky as to work with such outstanding people. Finally, I’m happy that my wife has embraced my love of this club and made it her own. It is the personal connections we make in life that make it all worthwhile. Of course, trophies don’t hurt either.