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USL PRO: Dom Dwyer’s dominance caps controversial title week for Orlando City

Sep 8, 2013, 7:36 PM EST

Orlando City SC

It’s only appropriate that Dom Dwyer defined USL PRO’s Saturday title game. It was the Sporting KC player’s one-game loan to Orlando that had made the biggest headlines in the lead up. After starting the season with the third division team, the MLS forward was loaned back to the club three days before their title game against the visiting Charlotte. Come Saturday night, his four goals and an assist had let the Lions to a 7-4 over the Eagles, giving them the third division title.

In front of a stellar crowd of 20,886 at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the Lions claimed their second title in three years. Unfortunately, the overarching story is the controversial way they went about it. Had Dwyer faded into the background and failed to have an impact on the match, we could overlook the fact that adding a first-tier talent to a third-tier squad days before the season’s final game prima facie unfair. Rather than spend a season molding a team that could stand on its own at year’s end, Orlando added a game-defining player three days before the title game – a player who immediately went back to his principal club.

The wrinkle here is that Dwyer spent 13 games with Orlando at the start of the season. Unfortunately, he was not on their roster for the last half of the season, nor was he there for the playoffs. This wasn’t just akin to a player returning from injury at the right time. Dwyer was part of another organization on Tuesday, sent to Orlando on Wednesday, and defined the season’s most important game on Saturday.

To their credit, Charlotte seems to have taken the high road after the game, per these quotes from the Charlotte Observer:

“We didn’t play real well defensively and we know they’re very good in attack,” Charlotte coach Mark Steffens said. “I look more at the seven (goals allowed) than the four (goals scored.) You can’t win giving up seven …

“When we went up 3-2, we had to do a better job of holding the lead there,” Steffens said.

“We know they’re potent in attack. They’re unbelievable. I can’t even say we played poorly, they’re just good,” he said.

That’s very gracious of Steffens, and perhaps he’s part of the camp that feels that because Dwyer was a part of Orlando at the beginning of the season, the Sporting prospect had a place in the game. With four goals and an assist, he certainly made the most of his opportunity.

“Credit to Orlando, they’re a fantastic team,” [Charlotte's Christian] Ramirez said. “They just have a will to not give up. We did everything we could.”

And Orlando’s entire team, Dwyer included, deserve credit for their performance on Saturday. But Dwyer with playing such a big role, it’s difficult to see USL PRO’s title game as anything but compromised.

The result marked an end to a newsworthy week for Orlando City SC, whose huge Saturday crowd flashed some of the MLS credentials owner Phil Rawlins hopes will give them a place in Major League Soccer. The Orlando City owner is confident securing a new stadium will win his team quick approval to be among the four teams MLS adds by 2022. Coming off a season where they averaged 8,197 people per game, many see Orlando as the most MLS-ready market out source:  there. Even the league’s website got in on the marketing (image right, quote below):

“If you were a skeptic about Orlando’s appetite for soccer in their quest to become the next MLS expansion team, the scenes will likely impress you.”

But this, from the Orlando Sentinel, cast some doubt on the Lions’ numbers, with the paper reporting massive inflation of attendance figures at the same time the organization is trying to secure public funding for a new stadium:

Orlando City Soccer Club recently celebrated a milestone: Average attendance at its games surpassed 8,000. But city turnstile records show average attendance was less than half that — at 3,987 …

But there are more than just bragging rights at stake for the Orlando City Lions. The team is lobbying Orlando and Orange County officials for a soccer-specific stadium that would cost $85 million, most of it from public money. It would seat about 18,000 people.

According to Sentinel reporting, on Aug. 11, a club record announced crowd of 10,697 only saw 4,004 pass through the gates. On Aug. 30, a playoff semifinal crowd announced as 8,912 saw 6,731 at the Citrus Bowl.

So did 20,886 really show up in Orlando on Saturday?

Inflation is not uncommon throughout sports, particularly in MLS, where it’s rare venues sell out. Inflation while lobbying for financing to help build an $85 million project? That’s something a lot more troublesome. If the Sentinel’s reporting’s true, the consequence of Orlando City’s exaggerated reporting could be to mislead the public, potentially asking people to believe the team’s a bigger draw than the turnstiles report.

These words from the club don’t help matters:

“We have tried to be as accurate and honest as we can,” team executive Brett Lashbrook said. “I think it’s in line with the industry practice, and in fact it’s more honest than other leagues …

“We are confident that our official attendance figures are an accurate and honest portrayal of the number of people attending our matches,” Lashbrook said.

How can that be? The turnstiles say one thing, but Lashbrook says another. Is he implying there’s massive fence jumping? Perhaps a secret entrance the city is unaware off? Is OCSC leaving a door open, and four thousand people are using it?

The city operates the Citrus Bowl and scans tickets as they come through the turnstiles. Their reporting reflects this. Perhaps Orlando City’s numbers reflect tickets sold (and, very likely, given away), but when you’re tying to fund an 18,000-seat venue, how many people actually come to games it pretty important, as is representing accurate numbers, when it comes to seeking public financing. Orlando is reportedly asking both their city and county to chip in $20 million each toward the cause, but the constituents of neither place may be getting the right information on how valued OCSC is as a community resource.

It’s all a campaign, once in which Saturday’s title may play a significant part. According to other reporting by the Sentinel, Orlando expects local funding to be approved with 30 days. Having a title-winning team generating goodwill in the community won’t hurt their case, even if their final victory came in large part because of curious Dwyer’s addition (see the headline on the linked piece to see how the two stories are already being connected).

The whole situation should also raise eyebrows at MLS. Whether it will or not, we’re unlikely to know.

Orlando’s argument for being one of Major League Soccer’s next four is that they’re ready. They have the fans. They’re going to get the stadium. They have the organization in place.

After the Sentinel’s reporting, however, OCSC’s claims don’t seem as well-founded as we’ve been led to believe. With markets like Miami, Atlanta, Tampa (among others) potential destinations for MLS clubs in the southeast, understanding the true Orlando picture will become all the more important.

  1. alexevansuf - Sep 8, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    A few things regarding this post…

    Regarding the Dom Dwyer loan, MLS affiliations are common throughout USL Pro. The team that finished first place in the regular season standings, the Richmond Kickers, had several loanees. The only difference between Orlando and Richmond is that Richmond got to keep their loanees throughout the entire season and playoffs. Dom Dwyer was recalled due to injuries and immediate need from SKC. SKC allowed us to have him for the championship game because our already thin attacking position was left completely bare after Long Tan received a red card in the semifinal game. Is it unfair to return a player whose roster spot was left empty after the recall when we have no alternatives left at the position? MLS and USL Pro are attempting to strengthen their relationship to develop a good reserves system. This relationship between MLS and USL Pro clubs will become more common in the future.

    If Richmond had made it to the finals, would the same attitude be directed towards their team? After all, it saw more benefit from their loanee arrangement throughout the season. OCSC had it’s chemistry and game plan suddenly changed in the middle of the season with no warning.

    On attendance…
    The Orlando Sentinel article itself admits that the turnstile numbers are likely inaccurate by a wide margin. If you have ever talked to someone that has attended a game (which I guess is hard to do as a reporter who lives in the community? I don’t know, I’m not a Sentinel reporter) you would know why the turnstile numbers are so hilariously low. The ticket scanners in use at the Citrus Bowl are baaaaaad. They attempt to scan the tickets and you have literally a 50% chance of it working. They try once, and if it doesn’t work they just wave you through and tell you to enjoy the game.

    In this article you try to suggest that OCSC gives tickets away to inflate our numbers. As someone who has attended almost every home game this season, I would LOVE to see some proof of this gigantic ticket giveaway that is occurring. I personally would hate to find out I’ve been buying all these tickets unnecessarily.

    If OCSC wanted to inflate their numbers, they could easily follow the ticket distributed model, comp every single ticket in the lower bowl sections and call our average attendance 16,000. They don’t do that and the model they are using reflects what my own eyes have observed during each game.

    • jerichowhiskey - Sep 8, 2013 at 10:37 PM

      The USL-MLS affiliation is not in question so Richmond’s possible circumstances does not matter. However, It is the manner of Dwyer’s one-game return especially when he was recalled before SKC played OC in the USOC is what is being questionable.

      The ease of sending and recalling players especially during the debacle in the USOC match-ups should be changed.

      • jajustice - Sep 8, 2013 at 11:14 PM

        Correction, he was recalled after the Chicago match, which was after the SKC match where the SKC loans were held out.

        And yes, the MLS/USL affiliation rules are in questioned. But this is the first year and hopefully there will be clarifications. Since no rules have been broken.

      • jerichowhiskey - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:26 AM

        OK, under the terms of the loan, none of the SKC players played for OC when they played SKC. Which still makes it pretty bad.

        Noticed I said there must be changes made not that any rules were violated.

      • alexevansuf - Sep 9, 2013 at 6:13 AM

        I brought up Richmond to point out how the loanee arrangement was (in theory) supposed to work. We should have had Dom Dwyer and three other loanees for the entire season. Would that somehow have made it more fair? Do you believe that Dom Dwyer developed tremendously during his absence from OCSC? Most SKC fans would probably admit he developed more with OCSC since he saw more game time and a system that allowed his skills to flourish.

      • wfjackson3 - Sep 9, 2013 at 1:49 PM

        @jerichowhiskey It’s not bad to prevent on loan players from playing against their parent club. What if all of the SKC players had played poorly and OCSC lost to SKC? People would complain about them blowing the game on purpose.

        Don’t be so quick to judge. There is always more to a decision that meets the eye.

  2. hildezero - Sep 8, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    This Dwyer guy really has a future in Sporting.

  3. footballer4ever - Sep 8, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    I am a believer that things must be done right and in a clear manner if any product should have a chance at success. I’d send my own MLS investigation team to look into these issues otherwise MLS will get stuck and screwed up by fake assistance numbers or else just look at the corrupted baseball club named Miami Marlins who simply got a fancy stadium in a corrupted manner. This OCSC smells to fishy and too desperate to be brought into MLS that they are capable to do anything improper to get to their destined goal, no pun intended.

    • alexevansuf - Sep 9, 2013 at 6:09 AM

      We have had several MLS executives at our games throughout the season. I am sure they are quite capable of seeing our attendance numbers for themselves.

      Also remember that OCSC is requesting a new stadium because we have been told by MLS that is the only way to get a MLS spot.

  4. akismet-e703686ff29ca61caf780d7789c0588c - Sep 8, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    Please don’t forget that this same Orlando City ownership are the ones who ripped the USL1 (as it was called at the time) Aztex team from Austin and fled, almost under cover over of night, to Orlando. They felt the prospects for eventually getting to MLS were better there, and perhaps they’re right. But the way they did it was shady at worst and crappy at best. They left behind a LOT of ill will, not just for their organization, but also for soccer in this city. A former partner of theirs has now restarted the Aztex as a PDL development club, with good success. But it took way more effort than it should have to pull something from the ashes of what Rawlins & Co. burned to the ground when they fled to the swamps of Florida.

    Misleading/flat-out lying about attendance numbers, bending the rules to get an MLS ringer in for the title game (honestly, wtf), screwing over an entire market when it doesn’t suit them… I’m just saying: these are all of a pattern.

    MLS beware.

    Chris Grayson
    Austin, TX
    (and damn proud of it)

    • jajustice - Sep 8, 2013 at 11:24 PM

      Chris, let it go. It’s been almost three years. Did what happen suck? Yes. It’s a business.
      You have a new team now, which is doing awesome, support them and leave Phil in the past.

  5. footballer4ever - Sep 8, 2013 at 11:21 PM

    The moraleof the story is that OCSC is a soccer club not worth being allowed into our MLS football community. Anyone who decides to take advantage of a loaned MLS player for the championship game in a questionable manner will have no reservation on pulling any strings necessary to trick the league to allow them to join in. The more i hear of this questionable/shady/corrupted activities, the more i hope MLS realizes what is real and what is not.

    • johnapaz - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      So, are you saying SKC should be banned from future tournaments for recalling their players when OCSC was scheduled to play them in the US Open Cup? Because if we’re going to punish OCSC then SKC should be punished as well.

      But, neither team should be punished.

      What we’re talking about here are small details of a much larger picture here. Look at the pictures from the game, the numbers notwithstanding…

      Show me one other non-MLS game that even comes close to that… just one.

    • wfjackson3 - Sep 9, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      F4E, you sometimes make some great, well thought out posts. This one comes off as just a bunch of complaining. Can you rephrase so we can have a proper debate?

      • footballer4ever - Oct 6, 2013 at 9:42 PM

        Thank for that kind statement about my posts. As far this one not falling in the same category as others, well, it might be true. As a football and MLS fan, I am just fearful the league might be “tricked” and hearing these reports as blown up attendance it’s worrying. I hope I am wrong because having 3 southeast teams like Atlanta, Orlando and Miami might just become the equivalent of the “Cascadia Cup” in the west coast.

  6. jajustice - Sep 8, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    Richard, with all due respect, I have a few questions/comments.

    I’m still trying to find the rule in the agreement with MLS/USL that Orlando ‘bent’, ‘take advantage’ or broke to make this controversial? Do you have a link for it? Have you reached out to anyone with MLS or USL or the clubs for clarity or insight?
    As I said before, this is the first year of this arrangement that needs to be worked out better and redefined more clearly. Maybe your writing will help kick start that in the offseason. But until (unless proven otherwise) then I believe you are painting Orlando in a bad light.

    I believe all the SKC players who were loaned to Orlando went immediately back to KC, because the USLPro season is over with.

    “So did 20,886 really show up in Orlando on Saturday?” Yes or very close to this number. Were you able to watch the game online or see any pictures from Orlando?

    ” If the Sentinel’s reporting’s true…” If uncertain, did you verify or get a second source?

    “Orlando is reportedly asking both their city and country to chip in $20 million each toward the cause..” I think you mean county ;)

  7. eroc3927 - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    I went to almost every home game this year and the lower bowl at the Citrus bowl is always packed. The lower bowl capacity is around 10k. I paid for my ticket and my parking. When I call the Orlando City offices to purchase tickets, nobody there told me, Hey here are some free tickets. 99% of the fans bought their tickets. Hey, this whole thing with Dwyer, I couldn’t care less. I went Saturday to the final hoping to see a great game and I got more than I bargain for. It was absolutely amazing. This NBC article and the Orlando sentinel article is just garbage. Reporters always want to stir up controversy when what you should be talking about is the game. On a Saturday when Miami was playing Florida gators, Orlando City was the lead story on all the local news outlet in Orlando. Now that is a story. Write about that Richard Farley. That is the news. College Football dominated Florida and the lead story was Orlando City Soccer USL Pro Final win over Charlotte. Orlando City Soccer keep knocking down the barriers in SouthEast United States. This is the news my friend.

    • johnapaz - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:54 PM

      Here-here! Great comment you left…

      A few things many people are ignoring in order to jump on the “bash-Orlando-City-bandwagon”:

      – Soccer is becoming increasingly successful in Central Florida. That in and of itself is noteworthy, especially for what’s considered third division soccer in “throwball” country (the US South).

      – Orlando City has a fanbase that not only cares but puts their money where their mouth is. They show up, not just for games, but for merchandise, for fan events, and for the lengthy list of non-pro-soccer events Orlando City sponsors, like their booming youth soccer league. That’s how they are doing this, they attract fans at every level. That’s a story in and of itself.

      – Orlando City’s stadium bid isn’t new, and it’s been struck down several times already because officials weren’t ready to sign because of the risk. It’s different now, and that’s because Orlando City front office made a push and asked fans to call their legislators, show up to games, and show support through social media. That stuff is not easily faked, and if it were it would quickly be the end of OCSC’s bid for gaining law maker’s trust, not something they can afford.

  8. 407magic - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:13 AM

    Richard Farley you are obviously bitter about something or everything Orlando. This article is borderline defacing ocsc with accusations about fabricating attendance and cheating by bringing in a player who played on the team this very season.
    Have you seen any footage or video inside the citrus bowl? There is easily 17,000-20,000 in attendance. More than some current MLS clubs.
    Maybe you need to think before you post your article
    #OCSCHATER

  9. uhlocalboy - Sep 9, 2013 at 2:12 AM

    Tripe article, Richard. GJGE.

  10. hildezero - Sep 9, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    @407magic,

    Don’t get too excited there. That attendance isn’t nothing compared to MLS playoffs while this was a USL final.

  11. Jackson Scofield - Sep 9, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    This is not an OCSC-specific occurrence by any means, and there is reason to believe that the city’s turnstile numbers may not be fully accurate either.

    The Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League had their Amway Center lease terminated by the city about a week ago. The city cited average turnstile numbers (about 5 or 6 K) significantly lower than the team and league reported numbers (about 11 or 12 K).

    I’m not sure if you have ever seen an Orlando Predators game, but it was definitely closer to the team’s reports than the city’s.

    There is more to this than the “City has the real numbers from the turnstile, Orlando City SC lies”.

    • eroc3927 - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Final Ticket sold numbers are more important than Turnstile numbers. Turnstile doesn’t take into account VIP’s who are ushered through the backdoor and team entrances, and box seats that are sold and sometimes never occupied. Ticket sold is what is important. This showed that the money was made. A lot of problem occurs with turnstile scanners also. Most of the time those scanners don’t work etc.

  12. SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Sep 9, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    I’ll just say this, I watched the game before I went to the Timbers game. They had just as many if not more than how many showed up in Portland. There were even a few empty seats here, it was Toronto though.

    There’s no doubt that they matched the size and attendance of MLS. Numbers can be fudged, but pics and videos show as packed a stadium as Portland, which is what TV wants and so do advertisers and so does the government, which is what MLS wants as well. Regardless of what the Sentinel wants, or any dramafest article, the evidence is hard to refute and makes the Sentinel look like it’s the one fudging numbers.

    Packed stadium = success

  13. talgrath - Sep 9, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    I couldn’t find a great picture of the crowd at the game, but this is the pic of Orlando City at the podium. http://worldsoccertalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/orlando-city-champions-600×400.jpg If you look in the background at the lower bowl (the only portion of the stadium opened for the game) it looks pretty packed to me.

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