At last Friday's announcement by Orlando City SC's ownership that they would both expand the new Soccer Specific Stadium and fund the whole venture with private capital, Phil Rawlins and Flavio de Silva both mentioned having the best fans in MLS. Now if you stick cameras in their face and microphones in front of them, the owners of most sports teams will probably claim to have the best fans in the land. The proof of the quality of a fanbase is not always what an owner will tell you, since it's in their best interest to talk up the customers. The proof is in what you see, what you hear, and what you experience as you interact with those fans. Today I'm going to bring you three brief stories that prove Orlando City SC really does have the best fanbase in the league.
Supporter Groups Dictate Visiting Tactics
The first story comes from the effect that the fans are having on the games themselves. If you've attended all of the home matches as I have, you may have noticed a subtle but significant change that happened after the fourth home match. In the matches with NYCFC, Vancouver, DC United, and Toronoto FC, the visiting team always started the match with their goalkeeper in the north end zone of the Citrus Bowl and then had him play on the south end in front of the vocal, passionate, boisterous, and energetic Supporters Section in the second half.
But since that time visiting teams have started changing their tactics. They are putting their goaltender in front of the Supporters Section for the first half and then moving them to the north end zone for the second half. I think that's because opposing coaches have started to realize that as the minutes wind down and the game is on the line they don't want their goaltender being screamed at so loudly and constantly that he can't hear himself think. The pounding drumline is incessant, the chanting is ceaseless, and the stomping and clapping coming from the Supporters Section is thunderous. I know The Ruckus and the ILF have had a few years of USL Pro soccer to get their organizations trained and conditioned for gameday duty, but it's still very impressive to see all the flags and hear all the chants and get energized by all the passion that those supporter groups bring to the pitch every match. So here's to you, Ruckus and ILF members--I salute you both for the passion you help bring to the stadium every match day and the energy you help infuse to the rest of the fans in the stands and the players on the pitch.
Visitors Impressed by Orlando City Fans
As someone who gets the chance to sit in the north end zone and look out across the stadium, I get a chance to interact with a lot of visitors to the Citrus Bowl. Most of them in Section 146 are wearing home purple, but a number of the season ticket holders in our section put their seats up on Stub Hub or the Orlando City secondary market each week, and we get the opportunity to interact with some fans of the visiting side or international travelers that choose to add a soccer match to their Orlando vacation plans. Every time I've had a chance to talk with visitors like this, they are impressed not only with the numbers of people turning up to Orlando City matches but the clear display of home pride by the almost uniform sea of purple in the stands and the fact that people don't leave the matches early.
And just tonight down at Harry Buffalo on Church Street, I had the privilege of speaking with assistant coach Ian Fuller and head coach Adrian Heath about some of the conversations they have had with opposing coaches and visiting international coaches and ex-players that have dropped by to watch Orlando City matches from the sidelines this season. They echo the same sentiments that I hear from visitors in the stands.
Of course, the club has reinforced the fact that games can have drama even in the dying moments--something that began in the opening match with Kaka's free-kick equalizer against NYCFC in stoppage time, and last weekend's late game laser-blast equalizer against Columbus that put an exclamation point on Pedro Ribeiro's return from his hamstring injury. So the fact that visitors to our matches and fans of other teams are taking notice of our passion and our dedication to the squad is another sign of a quality fanbase.
Fans Watching out for Fans
Finally, the third story that shows me we have the best fans in the league is a more personal story that began with something that could have been a very negative experience. Last Saturday evening after the Columbus game I was returning to my vehicle with my friends when we were approached by another couple that tailgate in Lot A near us. They looked a bit concerned and they said they had some bad news to report: someone had run into my vehicle with another car after I left the tailgate lot to go into the stadium.
Indeed when I reached my car I saw that my right front bumper had been all scraped up and some of the molding had been knocked away and peeled back. And of course it's a brand new vehicle that I haven't even made the first monthly payment on yet. Let me just say that my friends braced themselves for the mighty "Phooey!" they knew I was about to exclaim to express my frustration.
But even as our fellow tailgaters delivered the bad news, they started delivering better news. The first is that the vehicle which hit mine was a really expensive European luxury brand. Automatically that made me feel a little better realizing that the repairs were going to cost the other guy a lot more than the minor cosmetic damage that had been done to mine. The second bit of better news is that our tailgate neighbors had snapped pictures of the other vehicle, including the license plate. And the third bit of good news is that after flagging the other driver down and getting them to stop, our tailgate neighbors and the parking attendant in Lot A had called the Orlando Police and waited until they arrived to provide multiple eyewitness reports. They even had the cop's business card and had the police report number written down for me.
I feel I would be remiss and incomplete if I didn't say that a few minutes later the driver of the other vehicle showed up and we talked. Before knowing that anyone had already given me the information from the police officer he shared with me the card that the officer had given him with the case number written down and made sure I would have it. So it proves he's a stand-up guy. After all none of us are immune to making mistakes, but the quality of a person is in the ability to admit and own up to an honest mistake instead of trying to make excuses or shift the blame somewhere else. I'll also say the other driver was wearing Orlando City purple, so clearly he was at the match for all the right reasons.
That really turned something that could have been a huge steaming pile of crud dumped on my weekend into something that made me really appreciate the camaraderie that is starting to grow up around this club and within the fanbase. I especially want to thank the great folks over at Brandon Connelly Photography for their efforts to make sure I was aware of what had happened. Those are some stand-up folks over there--so consider them when you're looking for a photographer for your next party, event, or special occasion that you want captured in photos.
So as you can tell, when Phil Rawlins and Flavio da Silva say that Orlando City SC has the best fans in all of MLS, they're not just speaking in hyperbole or blowing smoke. They really mean it and there is empirical evidence to verify the claim. Just ask anyone from opposing coaches, visiting fans, or members of our own fan base and you'll get the same answer. The Beautiful Game is indeed finding a beautiful home in The City Beautiful. Vamos Orlando!