The signing of Alex Morgan by the Orlando Pride on Monday was another step forward in the vision of Orlando City SC President Phil Rawlins to build a “complete football club.” In recent weeks the club also announced a “B” team to play in the third-tier United Soccer Leagues which will allow the team to keep developing players locally (in Brevard County) and train with the first team based just down the road in Orlando. The announcement of the Orlando Pride women’s team to play in NWSL one of the top soccer leagues in the world for female players in addition to the on-field success of the Major League Soccer (MLS) club which had the third most successful season ever for an expansion team speaks volumes as to the culture being built locally. That is not to mention that the MLS side recorded the second highest average attendance in MLS averaging over 32,000 fans a game at the Citrus Bowl.
Next season, the MLS and NWSL teams will move into a brand new soccer-specific-stadium (SSS) with better access to downtown and walk-able areas than the Citrus Bowl. It was also be privately financed, making it one of the only soccer stadiums in the country to have been built for a pro team without state or local taxpayers dollars.
American club soccer has been historically dominated by sports “franchises.” But Orlando City SC is something different which is more familiar to those outside the United States – a real club with a set of values as a community based organization that has more than just a pro men’s team, but a women’s team, youth teams and reserve team along with it.
Regrding the Pride, while I previously expressed concerns about how much the Pride reportedly were giving up to obtain Morgan, the acquisition of Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle from Portland Thorns FC in the same trade and U.S. international Sarah Hagen from two-time NWSL champion FC Kansas City allay’s my concerns greatly. My view that Morgan despite her amazing goal-scoring rate for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) which she displayed again on Sunday in Orlando, has been an inconsistent NWSL player.
But for Morgan, Orlando might provide a change of scenery and getting away from the soccer-savvy but hyper-critical Portland fan base might help her. The reunion with former USWNT Manager Tom Sermanni who will manage the Pride should help as well. So while Portland will definitely benefit from this deal, it is clear Orlando will from a marketing standpoint and just might from a soccer perspective – though that last piece will not be determined until next summer for sure.
Morgan’s addition to a growing club that includes Kaka and now a B team makes Orlando City SC one of the model soccer clubs in North America. Soccer unlike other sports which have “franchises” have community-based “clubs” which typically include a youth setup (which Orlando City has built out over the last several years), a women’s team, a reserve team and a men’s first team. Orlando City SC is now among the first American clubs with this entire setup built out. They are a model for others to follow.
Photo: “Alex Morgan 2013-05-04 Spirit – Thorns-109 (8964376243)” by Erica McCaulley – 2013-05-04 Spirit – Thorns-109. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alex_Morgan_2013-05-04_Spirit_-_Thorns-109_(8964376243).jpg#/media/File:Alex_Morgan_2013-05-04_Spirit_-_Thorns-109_(8964376243).jpg