This is the first of what I hope will become a weekly column focused on my perspective as a supporter of the Orlando City. I’d love to incorporate your experiences and stories, so feel free to get in touch by commenting here or finding me on Twitter.
I sat behind Orlando City owner and president Phil Rawlins once. No this isn’t a story about how we hit it off instantly and rounds of drinks were bought. This was just Orlando City’s first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game and I was one of the few obvious City supporters at the game. Attendance is listed at a generous 1,139 for the overmatched first round game against ASC New Stars (Houston, TX). If I recall correctly he gave me a polite nod.
I took notice of this man who had brought his club and his dream to Orlando from Austin, TX. It was evident this was a man full of confidence and quiet composure. From that experience and his public persona, its apparent that he is really enjoying owning this club and bringing MLS to Orlando. Part of me also thought this person was completely unhinged to think Orlando was going to make it to MLS anytime soon.
Please forgive the early cynicism. Orlando has fallen for its fair share of minor-league institutions that sold themselves as major league outfits. Sure I wanted to believe him, but at this point I was still pretty sure I should be content with a great third division club and leave it at that.
Rawlins was absolutely different, and it did not take long for us to take notice. He came to Orlando with the impressive business background and his experience as an owner and director of Stoke City FC of the English Premier League. Then, of course, there was the way he and the club handled the long road to expansion. No matter how many emotional ups and downs I felt, Rawlins has always exhibited that positive confidence. As my friends and I began to follow Orlando MLS expansion news like a stock exchange ticker, I began to just let go of any anxiety I might have and live by the new mantra: “Trust Rawlins.”
There were so many nervous days. Of course, NYCFC’s announcement, the speculation about Miami, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Charlotte, among other potential expansion cities, brought a fair share of anxieties. Heck, I even got nervous when people started talking about Detroit for MLS. Seriously? Detroit? The stadium fight in Tallahassee and in Orlando with all the wins and losses those political battles brought. My friends and I became slightly obsessive about attendance numbers and became experts at estimating the Citrus Bowl crowds. Of course, sitting amongst the 20,886 for the USL Pro Championship vs. the Charlotte Eagles, I probably got overly cocky. Who could say no to this?
No matter the news, no matter the shared anxieties with fellow fans, no matter how the MLS landscape constantly shifted, Rawlins played it all like the coolest poker player at the table. If he was ever worried, it never showed. If he ever thought for a moment that MLS wasn’t coming to Orlando it never showed on his face.
This confidence I’ve gained in Rawlins and the Orlando City leadership was only reinforced this last week when our fellow expansion team NYCFC released their Manchester City lookalike kit. I was reassured to know our club was in good hands, led by people who understood the club and its jersey needed to reflect our city and the supporters. All of a sudden Orlando was looking like the major league trendsetter and not somebody’s farm team.