Contrary to the wishes of many crusty old sports writers and conservative America-first types, soccer (or football as I call it) is here in the United States. The recent surge in popularity of the sport in this country which has been exemplified by the large dollar amounts NBC Universal paid for TV rights to the English Premier League and ESPN/FOX paid for Major League Soccer has hit Florida. Tomorrow in Orlando close 70,000 fans will pack the Citrus Bowl to see Orlando City SC’s first MLS game against New York, which is owned by my favorite club Manchester City. The 70,000 fans will approach a state record which was set just last year in Miami for an international friendly match, but will be the highest attendance ever in the state for a game involving a local team. The two all-time highest attendances EVER in the United States for games involving US-based teams both involved sides from the state of Florida – the 1977 Fort Lauderdale at New York game drew almost 78,000 fans and a 1996 Tampa Bay at Los Angeles Galaxy game drew 92,000 fans. However, this will be the single largest attendance IN FLORIDA for a game involving a team from Florida.
It’s not just Orlando where good things are happening. The Tampa Bay area and Jacksonville are also experiencing a surge in popularity for the sport with superbly professional setups for both local clubs. Here is an article I penned for World Soccer Talk earlier this week on the surge of popularity for the pro game in the state.
Fort Lauderdale, has had a rocky offseason that has shown a lack of professionalism and quite frankly honesty from the newly installed front office and management team. However, the club has on an extremely tight budget when compared to their in-state rivals signed what at least on paper appears like a team that could be better on the pitch than both Tampa Bay and Jacksonville while challenging for honors in the NASL.
Also, here is a trip report with photos (thanks to Stephanie Porta since I couldn’t make the journey) from Orlando’s last preseason venture when upwards of a 1,000 supporters traveled to Charleston for the Carolina Challenge Cup. With Orlando geographically isolated in MLS (unlike the NASL teams in Florida), Charleston represented the shortest trip fans could make this season.