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Sit down with Orlando City SC: Taking on Beckham, emulating the Timbers and Kaka in 2015 – Part I

Nov 29, 2013, 11:53 AM EST

Sellout crowds are the aim for Orlando City, as a new downtown stadium awaits. Sellout crowds are the aim for Orlando City, as a new downtown stadium awaits.

Last week after all the rigmarole and hype had subsided somewhat, I got the chance to speak with two of the leading lights of Major League Soccer’s newest franchise.

Chatting away with Co-owner and President of Orlando City Soccer Club Phil Rawlins and current head coach Adrian Heath, I got the sense that these guys are only at the beginning of an incredible journey as they aim to take MLS and soccer in North America by storm.

Since relocating the team from Austin, Texas to Orlando in 2011 and blitzing their way to two USL Pro titles in recent years, Orlando City were finally confirmed as MLS’ 21st franchise on November 19.

With a new 20,000 capacity soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando signed and sealed, plus a plan in place to eventually  become MLS’ best side, Rawlins and Heath have a busy time ahead of them. But that’s not to say the journey they’ve been on thus far hasn’t taken plenty of time and effort as paperwork, funding and red-tape has held them up.

(MORE: Orlando City SC confirms they will be next MLS franchise)

Finally they’ve reached the promised land and now they’re in MLS, that’s only the beginning.

I was about to find that out, as I spoke with the two Brits who are aiming to transform soccer in Central Florida and, in time, the U.S.

source: Getty Images

David Beckham is trying to the big guns involved in bringing MLS to Miami. Orlando City would love their Floridian rival to join the party.

On any doubt about making it to MLS:

PR: I never really doubted it would happen to be honest with you. We’ve always known that there’s some twists and turns along the way and some bumps in the road that we’d have to navigate. I’ve never really had a doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t happen at some point. It was just a case of how quickly could we make it happen and how quickly could we get into the league to start playing. That was our focus, our ultimate goal was to get in at the start of 2015 if at all possible. We’ve achieved that, so we’re delighted.

On Miami potentially getting an MLS franchise:

AH: I think you only have to look at the Pacific Northwest to see what rivalry will bring to the table. If you look at Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, the rivalry is incredible and it’s captured the imagination of everyone… not just soccer fans. The atmosphere resonates to everybody. If we could do something likewise with Miami and there’s talk about Atlanta and one or two other places, who is to say we couldn’t generate the same sort of rivalry?

In world soccer, that is the thing that drives a lot of it: derby games.

On being the focal point and ‘trailblazers’ of soccer in the Southeast:

PR: I think we very much do [see themselves as trailblazers]. This is a very good market place, a young growing city, it’s got a great demographic for soccer. The average age is 34, right in the target of MLS. We see ourselves as being somewhat trailblazers but we love being the pioneers, we set our own standards. We have done for many, many years. We’ve looked to set a new bar for soccer not only in the Southeast but across MLS.

If we’re successful, which we know we will be, that will only just create more and more interest in market places locally and like Adrian said hopefully fuel those rivalries and derby games to come.

On emulating any current expansion sides in MLS:

source: Getty Images

Emulating the match day experience on display at JELD-WEN Field is something high on Orlando’s to-o list.

AH: I’ve always liked the way Salt Lake play, I think they play the game the right way. I like what Sporting have done and I think you have to take your hat off to what Caleb Porter has done in his first year at Portland. They try and play football the right way, they play at a high tempo and high energy game, which is something that I think supporters enjoy. In terms of on the field, if we could do what Sporting have been doing since they moved into the new stadium and play like Salt Lake and get the atmosphere that Portland get… we’ve crossed all three boxes!

On playing philosophy and what type of player Orlando will bring in:

AH: I think it will be a bit of a mixture of all the things you’ve just mentioned [big name DPs, top college recruits and players from their own academy]. The ownership group, Phil and Flavio, have never made any secret that they want to bring in a big time player when we arrive. Obviously the name out their all the time is Kaka, whether it’s Kaka or somebody else, it will be somebody of that ilk we think. But certainly, since we’ve been here, we’ve been working hard in our own way behind the scenes with the academy. We think we’re starting to make inroads there. We’ve got four of our kids now in the U.S. development pool. We’re trying to do a bit of everything and we know we’re going to have to being players in from college because that’s where we will get the bulk of our squad from, or certainly within the league.

So overall, it’s a little bit of everything. Ultimately it’s about putting a team together, young, old or whatever, we just want to make sure on the opening day we’re going to be competitive from day one.

source: Getty Images

Kaka is a player constantly linked with Orlando City, the club says a DP of his caliber will arrive in 2015.

On any potential link up with Stoke City in the future:

PR: We don’t have a formal relationship with Stoke. The connection obviously runs deeps because I’m a part-owner of Stoke and I’ve been a director at Stoke for 14 years now. Adrian is of course an ex-player and began his career there. We have deep, emotional connections to the club, we don’t have a formal contract so we won’t be looking at bringing players in from loan there. What it does give us, through Adrian, myself and Flavio’s business colleagues in South America, it gives us a great network to tap into to bring the very best of those marketplaces here.

The relationships we have there is worth a lot, so we will look to exploit those and make the very most of them and bring the very best talent that we can and then marry that with the best local talent.

  1. hildezero - Nov 29, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    That stadium in the picture looks pretty nice. Is that the actual purposed stadium?

    • Joe Prince-Wright - Nov 29, 2013 at 2:22 PM

      I believe that was the original renderings from a few months back.

      Not sure if the stadium design has changed somewhat, as levels of funding etc. has fluctuated.

      I’m expecting it to be a great venue for soccer when it does arrive though.

      • valiantdraws - Nov 29, 2013 at 4:10 PM

        You expect this based on…what?

        I don’t doubt it will be great, but you word things like you’re an expert. You, sir, are neither an expert on soccer, or being a journalist.

      • footballer4ever - Nov 29, 2013 at 8:30 PM

        @valiantdraws –

        Wow, What’s all that animosity about? I am sure if NBC hired him or any other PST author must be because they’ve earned their places in the footballing arena even though you may think differently. Have an issue with any of them? hit the road, Jack!! or learn to communicate and tone down your passionate football way because I am sure they’ve earned their football stripes to talk or give their opinions on football or soccer as they mostly refer it about.

      • charliej11 - Dec 2, 2013 at 3:13 PM

        Wow ValiantDraws, you know so much, how do you do it ?

  2. footballer4ever - Nov 29, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    @Joe Prince-Wright

    I am sure you have the means to get in contact with people high up in MLS. Having said that, building 18k stadiums seems like nowadays is small minded/complacent in MLS part. The notm should be at least 20k-25k on average. I know it may cost more money to build those extra thousand seats, but it’ costs more to “expand” an already built stadium as well. Would you please touch on that small minded stadium mentality. Beckham’s team is not being shy, considering the fusion’s fate, and he’s looking to build a 25-30k stadium.

    • kirielson - Nov 30, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      The thing is you want to artificially cap the stadium so that people will want to go there. If you want 20k in the seats you need at least 30k wanting to be there.

      • charliej11 - Dec 2, 2013 at 3:14 PM

        Or you cover seats and wait. Seattle, Vancouver, etc. Not a bad way to go. Seattle drew 45k that way with only 38k seats for most games.

    • joeyt360 - Nov 30, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      I really doubt SKC is going “oh no, our stadium is too small!” just because they’ve filled it their last three dozen games in a row. When the time comes that you get to the point where the stadium size doesn’t suit demand, you can expand it.

  3. footballer4ever - Nov 30, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    @kirielson

    “The thing is you want to artificially cap the stadium so that people will want to go there. If you want 20k in the seats you need at least 30k wanting to be there.”

    Do you realize what you wrote makes no sense or simply it’s still small minded mentality?

    You don’t artificially cap something to grow, but ergonomically develop the product to grow and so you can have more demand. Building a 20-30k stadium range is a decent big stadium for MLS 3.0 which MLS should be striving for. It’d be easier to “downsize” a stadium if it’s not bring filled up for MLS games, but it gives the stadium the real state to host international matches or other meaningful events which has the power to easily fill a stadium of that size.

    • wfjackson3 - Dec 2, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      F4E, its actually not small minded. People not having access to something is one way to get them to want it more, or at the very least, get them to talk about it more. Aside from that, if there are 30k people that want to go to games, they won’t all be able to go on any individual day. It’s just marketing strategy. You can argue the finer points of it’s applicability to the situation, but it is a legitimate and often useful strategy.

      As an example, I only carry 8 clients in my business. When a slot opens up, people tend to go out of their way to find us and pitch us on how good of a client they will be.

      • footballer4ever - Dec 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM

        I can understand and respect your logical point of view.

        Although I still feel MLS should be thinking forward in the stadium capacity minimum limits.

      • charliej11 - Dec 2, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        Good point, but your business sounds like it doesn’t have the capacity to grow…which is probably fine for you.

        But for US Soccer ? Growth doesn’t describe it…like a moon shot.

      • footballer4ever - Dec 2, 2013 at 6:27 PM

        @ charliej11

        I agree to disagree. It’s a matter of seeing stadiums half full or half empty, I guess ;)

      • wfjackson3 - Dec 3, 2013 at 10:21 PM

        @charliej11 my business does have the capacity to grow. However, at this point in time, it is a more effective result for the business to limit clientele as we prepare to grow while taking advantage of some of the pricing and revenue stability benefits that result from such a strategy. That said, I see what you are getting at.

  4. footballer4ever - Nov 30, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    SKC might not be saying that, but again, KC Wizards and recently as of 3 years ago SKC was not a highly regarded and supported club in the community. Their fortunes took a turn when a visionary and deep pocketed owner decided to rebrand and build a home stadium. Of course, winning is the final recipe to get your product promoted and eventually supported by the community in a city mostly owned by the older nfl and mlb franchise. SKC falls in the MLS 2.0 version, but newer stadiums like SJE, DCU, OC, NYCFC and MIami FC should strive for stadiums at least 20k -30k. In the end, SSFC and PTFC in which the sport had been dormant did not forsee how things would turn out. At least, PTFC is on the verge of expanding Jeld-Wen but not sure how much bigger they can get that accomplished.

    • joeyt360 - Dec 3, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      The principle behind the Soccer-Specific Stadium in the first place was that the same crowd looks and sounds better in a stadium where that crowd fills it. Then, they want to come back (and the people who happen to see it on TV want to go.) For aesthetic reasons, you really want a stadium that is at least mostly full most of the time. Building an SSS to an optimistic initial capacity partially defeats the purpose.

  5. creek0512 - Dec 2, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Yes! Build a bigger stadium now and just tarp over the seats until you need them. It’s like buying a 5 bedroom house and a minivan when you’re a bachelor. You need to stay ahead of the game!

  6. creek0512 - Dec 2, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    @charliej11

    Econ 101, it’s better to have excess demand than excess supply, especially for what is essentially a monopoly. I don’t know of any other pro soccer teams in MLS cities.

  7. johnah - Dec 3, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    OCSC is likely responding to the very real experience they have had here in Orlando over the past three years playing in the Citrus Bowl which has a capacity of 70K seats. Even during the electric USL Pro Championship game with 21K anytime your eyes went up high enough you were reminded of all of those empty seats. They are going to want to make sure that they can fill their new stadium from the start and 18K to 20K is really the most they should go with here for now.

    • johnah - Dec 3, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      Also for MLS needs help on TV much more than they do in filling their stadiums right now (at least in most cities). Having fans at home watching games & seeing packed energetic stadiums all over the country could be part of what MLS is going for with these stadiums.

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