Growing up in Florida, I've always been a fan of American Football. As a kid I watched the Dolphins and later the Buccaneers play, and as I got into high school I began paying more attention to college football.
I attended and graduated from UCF during the years when the Knights played in Division II and Orlando was a mish-mash of orange, green, garnet, gold, and blue every Saturday during the fall. But a few years after I graduated, the USA hosted the world's biggest month-long sporting event, the 1994 World Cup, and the Citrus Bowl in Orlando was the site of a few games.
I have to be honest that I did not go to any of the local games when the World Cup was here--that was back in the days when about all I knew of the game we called "soccer" was that some Brazilian guy named Pele had once been a huge star and that fans were routinely bloodied in riots in both South America and Europe over match results or club rivalries.
But I watched many of the games of the World Cup on TV during 1994, and while I didn't always understand it, I started to get a little swept up in the excitement of it all. For several cycles of the World Cup, those games every four years were about the only time I ever sat down and watched the world's brand of football. Part of that was due to the sparse TV coverage of the sport in the USA, and part was still a general ignorance of the game.
However, it kept growing on me, and when the USL Pro club team moved to Orlando in 2011 and took the name "Orlando City Lions," I was glad to hear it and attended a few games--er, matches--with friends. Over the course of the next two or three seasons, I attended about one match per season, culminating with the brilliant USL Pro Championship game at the Citrus Bowl in September of 2013.
That was a magical game with a fantastic crowd, and it was at the championship game I decided I would buy season tickets for 2014, even though I knew the matches would be held way down at Walt Disney World. A few months later when Orlando City was confirmed as the 21st franchise in MLS, I was very excited and looked forward to being able to see both the last season of USL Pro play and the inaugural MLS campaign of the squad.
Of course 2013 turned out to be a pretty magical year for my alma mater as UCF went on to claim a conference championship and win the Fiesta Bowl--all in all it was a pretty great time to be a football fan in this town. Of course 2014 was not quite as good for both squads. UCF managed to win another conference title but couldn't match the excitement of the previous season, and while Orlando City captured the regular season championship in USL Pro by scoring the most points in league play, they lost in the first round of the playoffs.
None of that matters now, though. With the signing of Kaka and the excitement building around the groundbreaking of the club's new stadium, the renovation of the Citrus Bowl, and the pre-season events that will kick off on February 7, I am really excited about following the Lions through their first MLS campaign.
I'm interested to know more about fellow fans and season ticket holders for Orlando City. Are you a relatively new fan of the world's "football" game, or are you a long-time fan of the sport that is happy there's finally a local team to support? Have you followed the MLS for a long time or will this be your first exposure to the league on a regular basis? Who do you think will be the player that has the most impact on the team this season? Will it be the great international star Kaka? Will Kevin Molino repeat his record-setting feat from USL Pro and notch a new mark to beat in MLS this season? Or will someone else emerge as a superstar?
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