A year ago, Orlando was abuzz with the excitement of another major league sports franchise getting ready to launch as Orlando City approached their inaugural MLS campaign. Today the region is getting excited about the growth of the Orlando City family, as the Orlando Pride will begin play in the NWSL this year, and OCB will extend Orlando City's local presence back to the USL where the franchise first got its start.
Today I'm going to make a few predictions about the teams in the Orlando City family and the sport in general. Without further ado...
Orlando City SC - MLS Predictions
First playoff appearance. I predict Orlando City SC will make the MLS playoffs in 2016. The club missed the playoffs by one spot in 2015, finishing 7th in the East. But mathematically they were still alive going into the final weekend of the season. I predict that with a healthy Kevin Molino returning and the young squad having a full season of MLS competition under their belts they will be better prepared to push for the playoffs in this year.
New record attendance. I predict Orlando City SC will set a new franchise attendance record. Last season, Orlando City averaged a bit over 30,000 per match to have the second-best attendance in the league. I think the team will better that this season, but I'm not going to predict they will pass Seattle for the league's best attendance. I believe that is going to take several years of consistently making the playoffs, and it may take winning MLS Cup titles before that happens.
MLS League MVP. I predict Orlando City SC will produce the league MVP in 2016. Maybe I'm a bit biased, but I don't think it's a stretch. It wouldn't be surprising to see players like Brek Shea, Cyle Larin, Kaka, or the aforementioned Kevin Molino contend for the honor if they all remain healthy for the season.
Orlando Pride - NWSL Predictions
First playoff appearance. Yes, I'm going to predict that the Pride will be able to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. With WNT players from countries in both hemispheres on the squad, I don't think it's a question of talent that will determine whether or not the Pride can make the playoffs in their first season. The question is going to be how well all these great players come together as a team. It will be fun to watch!
NWSL Attendance Record. It's tremendous and wonderful that the Portland Thorns and their fans have set such a fantastic bar for the entire league, averaging over 15,600 fans per match in 2015. I hope they will be able to eclipse that in 2016. And I hope the Orlando Pride can do even better.
NWSL League MVP. Are you sensing a theme here? I'm definitely writing this post with my purple-tinted glasses on, but there's no reason to believe that with the talent the front office has assembled we couldn't see several players on the squad contend for the league's top individual honor on the pitch.
OCB - USL Predictions
Return of the USL Championship Trophy. As a franchise, Orlando City is no stranger to the playoffs in USL. For all four seasons in USL, Orlando City made the playoffs and won two championships before making the leap to MLS. When OCB takes to the pitch this season I predict they will put a third USL Championship trophy in the front office trophy case.
USL Attendance Lead. I tailgated all last season for Orlando City and I was both pleased and surprised at the number of fans who made the trek from Brevard County to Orlando every matchday for games. So I was not surprised when the club decided to located OCB on the Space Coast. It's a nice reward for the fans that showed their love of the game and the team to drive all the way to Orlando all season last year, and I hope they will turn a lot of their friends and neighbors into matchday fans that attend the games and support the team in person.
USL League MVP. OCB will get a leg up on some USL clubs by fielding several young players who have MLS experience from 2015. OCB also has the added advantage of sharing a training facility with an MLS club. While this doesn't make them unique, I think the incredible front office and team leadership will help to cultivate a player from the roster that has a chance to capture the league's top individual player honor.
What do you think: am I being too optimistic about the chances our club has to compete in 2016, or do you agree that Orlando City is going to need to build a much bigger trophy case to hold all the hardware that the club's teams are going to start winning this year?