Home Business of Soccer Orlando City bullish on MLS future, while FC Edmonton content to build its brand

Orlando City bullish on MLS future, while FC Edmonton content to build its brand

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Orlando City has yet to play a regular-season game in its central Florida home, but the USL side is already talking about a move to Major League Soccer.

On its official Facebook page, the club has launched a new initiative by urging fans to buy tickets and to let family and friends know about the new soccer team. And the club has made it clear the end goal is to grow to the point where MLS can’t ignore the city.

“Want Orlando City to make it to MLS? Do your part by spreading the word about the club to all of your friends and family. The more we grow our fan base, the more our chances at expansion grow!” reads the site.

Wow. Last year, this franchise was in Austin, Tex. It hasn’t played league game yet. It did beat Toronto FC over the weekend, but that was a preseason game (albeit, TFC has a pretty good track record when it comes to losing to lower-division sides). Oh, and there was a preseason win over the Philadelphia Union, too.

But, in a cagey move, the club only launched this “we want the MLS” campaign after the win over TFC — even though owner Phil Rawlins met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and league president Mark Abbott at the MLS SuperDraft back on January 13. The team didn’t issue a press release about that meeting until after the team played Toronto FC at the Walt Disney World complex just outside of Orlando, more than a month after the fact.

“As a first meeting I don’t believe it could have gone much better,” said Rawlins in the release. “MLS wants a successful future franchise in Florida and our owners believe Orlando has all the ingredients MLS is looking for in a potential franchise.”

“It up to us and the people of Central Florida to prove that Major League Soccer has a future here in Orlando,” said Rawlins. “Commissioner Garber and Mark Abbott clearly spelled out what we need to do to be successful in our MLS application, and based on that we are be building a roadmap for MLS status. I anticipate last month’s meeting will be the first of several. We were very encouraged by what we heard.”

One thing OC has going for it is a strategic partner. The club is already affiliated with Stoke City of the Premiership.

The team will play its USL games at the Citrus Bowl, a 70,000 football stadium, in 2011.

“We will be reconfiguring the stadium in a way that is similar to what the Seattle Sounders do with Qwest Field, using sponsor banners and other elements to create a ‘stadium within a stadium’ concept,” Orlando City spokesman Adam Soucie wrote in an e-mail to The 11. “We’ve also completely reconfigured the luxury suite area to accommodate both open seating and private suites, something the UFL was not able to do. It creates a whole new revenue stream for us that other teams that have attempted playing at the Citrus Bowl have never attempted. We’ve already seen some success with it.”

Orlando City is being bold, making it clear that it wants to follow the trail blazed by the Sounders, Timbers, Whitecaps and Impact — moving from the lower divisions to MLS. It’s a very different message than what we are hearing from FC Edmonton. Even though Garber has made it clear that he doesn’t think expansion to Canada needs to be capped at three teams, FCE is not looking at its NASL season as an audition for MLS.

FCE is making its NASL debut this season, and is not speaking in bold terms like Orlando City. FC Edmonton’s front office has stated that it feels making a move to MLS would be very, very difficult. The city has to first overcome a terrible reputation for not supporting pro soccer, with the Edmonton Aviators struggling to draw 2,000 fans per game at Commonwealth Stadium in 2004 until the USL had to take over the team halfway through the season. Changing that perception of Edmonton as a city that’s great for women’s soccer, but empty for men’s games and pro games, is job one.

And then, there’s the schedule. In NASL, the season doesn’t begin as early as the MLS schedule does, and the season wraps up sooner. NASL plays in a much smaller window. Edmonton plays on the road for the first three weeks of the season, so it doesn’t play a league home game till May. If FCE was to play in MLS, with home games in March and early April, there could be weather to make the freezing temperatures at last season’s MLS Cup in Toronto seem downright tropical. And, it’s not like October is much better. Late-season home games or playoff games could be just like those Champions League games we see from Russia.

FCE wants to compete with the Canadian MLS teams, but isn’t sure it can join them.

“If we had to play MLS teams we’d be competitive all the time,” said FCE general manager Mel Kowalchuk. “I’m not saying we’d win all of the games, but we’d be competitive. The games would be close.”

Toronto and Vancouver are great MLS cities because neither have climates that resemble what we experience in 99 per cent of the Canadian landmass. No one laughs in either city when someone suggests that spring actually begins in March.

If Montreal was ever to get MLS Cup, we know that game would be played in Olympic Stadium, not Stade Saputo. Edmonton is even colder.

Think about what would happen if FCE was to make it into the CONCACAF Champions League. Imagine, a few seasons from now, the team making a Cinderella run like the Montreal Impact did in 2008-09. Imagine a February home game, in Edmonton. No domed stadium in the area. Just to give you an idea, we are talking -20 to -25 C — before the factor in the wind chill.

And FCE would need a track record of success at Foote Field, the University of Alberta’s home turf filled with Canadian football lines, before it could run towards a soccer-specific stadium.

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3 Comments

  1. Blue and White Army

    March 2, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Orlando City = Milton Keynes Dons USA. May they crash and burn into the oblivion of history.

    • Go CITY!!!

      March 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

      Orlando needs a team to go along with the Magic. Soccer in the Citrus Bowl would be great! Also if it gets big enough it would give a reason to eventually renovate it. Go CITY!!!

      • Go CITY!!!

        March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am

        Think about it. If we had teams the like the NY Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, etc coming through Orlando, the revenue would be amazing. We need a good boost to this area and soccer is a great way to do it. Go CITY!!!

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