March 8th will be a historic day for Major League Soccer. The two newest teams in the 20-team league, Orlando City and New York City FC, will take the field for their first competitive matches. What makes the day even more exciting is the fact that Orlando and NYCFC will be playing each other. This game will serve as each team’s coming out party to the country.
Both sides, despite their short history, boast world-class talent. The Florida side’s first signing as an MLS franchise was Brazilian legend Kaká. During the 32-year-old’s storied career, he has been hailed as the best player in the world, been a record setting signing (€68.5 million to move to Real Madrid), and appeared in two World Cups for Brazil. Kaká’s resume is astounding and his highlight reel could run for hours on end.
Not to be outshined, New York City brought in a legend of their own: David Villa. The Spanish striker has won countless trophies during his time with clubs such as Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Valencia. He currently holds the record for most goals scored for the Spanish national team. These two stars will be looking to start their MLS careers with a win.
Even with the star power on the field, perhaps the most amazing part of this game is the fans. Orlando City is playing all of this season’s games in the Citrus Bowl while their soccer-specific stadium is being built. The 60,000-seat arena has played host to NCAA bowl games, World Cup matches and even WWE wrestling matches. The front office of Orlando City created a mission to fill this massive stadium for their MLS-debut and established #FilltheBowl.
The President and Founder of the club, Phil Rawlins, posted an open letter to supporters on February 4th to drum up awareness of the idea. In the letter, Rawlins writes, “The game will be live on ESPN, showcasing the Orlando we know and love to the rest of the country – let’s show them how and why we earned this (a spot in the MLS)!” The national spotlight has the opportunity to also show non-soccer fans that the beautiful game has finally taken hold stateside and it isn’t leaving anytime soon. On March 2nd, Orlando City’s website officially announced that their #FilltheBowl campaign was a success. Over 65,000 fans will pack the Citrus Bowl for this piece of MLS history. This massive crowd would make the matchup between Orlando and NYCFC the sixth-most attended game in MLS history.
While this is NYCFC’s first ever season in existence, Orlando City has been competing in America’s second tier the United Soccer League. During their first season in the USL in 2011, the team from Florida won the championship. In their second year, they had the best regular season record in the league but were eliminated in the semifinals. In 2013, Orlando claimed their second championship in three years and in 2014, their final USL season, Orlando again held the best regular season record for the third time in their four year existence.
The move up to the MLS came with a drastic overhaul of the existing USL roster, the team picked up league veterans such as Tally Hall from Houston, Aurélien Collin from Kansas City and Lewis Neal from DC United. They also ended Brek Shea’s nightmare stay in the Premier League and brought him back stateside. Six players survived the transition to the top tier including youngsters like Estrela, Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner. The success of the side will depend on how well the small existing core of returning players is able to mix with the brand new roster. The same could be said about New York City FC, who has spent the preseason in Europe playing friendlies in Scotland and training at Manchester City’s facilities.
The first game will serve as a feeling out process for both sides. All of the friendly games, and practice sessions cannot replicate a packed 60,000-seat stadium. The adrenaline of this historic game should lead to an exciting matchup with plenty of attacking play. The home field advantage will be in full effect as I expect Orlando City SC to win a close one, and oust NYCFC 2-1.
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