Monday, September 5, 2011

Is Orlando the Next MLS Franchise?; Orlando City Takes USL Pro Title in Shootout

Video: Pandemonium reigns and so do the Lions.

Shootout is the name of the game this year, first Argentina and Brazil in Copa America, than the U.S. Women's National Team in the World Cup Final.  Just recently, the Philadelphia Independence lost their shootout final for the WPS title to the Western NY Flash and Sunday night the Harrisburg City Islanders lost their shot at the Men's Third Division-USL Pro Title in a shootout to Orlando City.

Orlando proved to be a ruckus atmosphere.  The crowd was in a frenzy and the Lions of Orlando City didn't disappoint them.  Playing the championship game at home didn't unnerve them as they showed poise under pressure.

Other more famous shootouts this year have been sprayed around like allergic reactions.  Not the Lions, not this year, not in front of their home crowd in the Citrus Bowl.

Orlando City wins the title and respect in American Soccer circles.  They will be watched closely by MLS in coming years because of their championship and impressive crowd numbers they attracted in their first year of existence, averaging more than 6,000 per game.

Their investment group has kept it no secret of their interest to bring a team from Orlando to MLS. They currently play in the Citrus Bowl, a former venue of the '94 World Cup, which would satisfy many of the requirements for MLS standards.  The Montreal Impact enter the league next year as the 19th franchise.  Orlando may end up being the 20th.

The pressure to maintain their momentum as a potential MLS city might see them taking the step up to Second Division, NASL, for next season.  There are a lot of factors at play in order for this to happen, the biggest one being whether NASL will be able to hang around as the official Division II or not.

Much of what will be decided for the Minor Leagues of U.S. Soccer will be discussed by USSF at the end of the MLS season.  NASL will still have to prove their finances are in order and USL Pro may decide to test NASL for Division II supremacy and turn in a bid to replace them.

USL Pro made progress with their new format this season, even with the roadblocks of having only one team west of the Mississippi and failing Caribbean teams.  But, any progress this year is diminished by looking at what they lost by taking several steps backwards in recent years.  They never should have lost their mantle as Soccer's Division II in the first place.

Orlando City carries some weight as champion and as a team with clout due to their current stadium agreement (hopefully, they can get rid of the tackle football lines in the future), their appearance as a solid organization and their fan support.

NASL may have bigger clout to offer as the U.S. Second Division and in terms of rivalries for Orlando City.  The Atlanta Silverbacks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and FC Tampa Bay all make natural rivals in terms of distance and as bragging rights for Florida's best pro Soccer team.

MLS is the big fish and as so, they can really impact how the divisions align themselves with USSF. MLS may decide it is in a franchise's best interests to play in Second Division to be ready for the First Division.  MLS hasn't done anything like this in the past necessarily.  But the stricter rules the USSF are placing on owners of Second Division (Second Division owners must prove they have a net worth of 20 million dollars) will allow MLS to see a vetting process in action, thus assisting them in prepping for the next best candidates for expansion.

Though, if Orlando City is really ready, never underestimate MLS in pushing for it right away to gain expansion.  MLS needs a team in the southeastern part of the U.S.  They have been repeatedly bashed by bloggers and fans for not having one there.

If Orlando is the next franchise for MLS, it would make sense.  Every USL team which has made the jump, Seattle, Portland, Toronto and Vancouver, have all proven to be worthy and improving the MLS brand.

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