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Orlando City Showcases Big Time Potential of MLS

With stars like Villa and Kaka the MLS is gaining strength.

Billy’s MLS Beat

It’s not often that sports fans get to watch two expansion teams play each other in their inaugural game, but this weekend in MLS, unquestionably the most highly anticipated weekend in the league’s history, fans got to see two brand new squads face off in a matchup of superstars–Orlando City SC with Kaka and NYC FC with David Villa, both vying for their first victory in MLS.

More than 60,000 purple clad Orlando supporters packed the Citrus Bowl to witness their club’s first game in the big leagues. The Iron Lion Firm, Orlando’s dedicated support group rose to the occasion creating a breathtaking tifo pregame, and orchestrating an amazing stadium atmosphere throughout the contest. In addition to the tifo, the Orlando supporters provided coordinated chants, a sea of purple shirts, and the feeling that something special is to come in central Florida, despite the region’s shoddy reputation with regards to support for their sports teams. With the support behind them, Orlando showed that they are more than ready to make the jump from USL to MLS.

The city of Orlando has MLS fever.

The city of Orlando has MLS fever.

The game started chippy, but in Orlando’s favor. The refs handed out three yellow cards before they blew the whistle for halftime, leaving the game in a gridlocked tie before Mix Diskerud made his mark in NYC FC history. In the 77th minute, the man with Mix on the back of his jersey curled in a ball from the top of the box into the back right corner of the Orlando goal, the first goal in NYC FC history.

Things went from bad to worse for Orlando, as defender Aurelian Collin slid studs up into David Villa, drawing a red card from the referee for the rough foul. Down 1-0 with just 10 men remaining on the field, things looked grim for Orlando, but Kaka, the captain and fearless leader of City, brought his club back from the dead. In the waning minutes of stoppage time, the Brazilian earned a free kick which he ricocheted off a New York City defender, and into the net, subsequently ending the game in a tie.

Kaka's free quick resulted in the equalizer.

Kaka’s free quick resulted in the equalizer.

Orlando dominated the game from the start, but the brief series of hiccups likely cost them three points. With the Mix goal coming just minutes before Collin’s red card, Orlando found themselves on the ropes, after dominating possession for most of the first half. Carlos Rivas terrorized the NYC FC defenders all afternoon with devastating runs towards goal. If Orlando’s young midfielder ever figures out how to time his runs, he will be a candidate to win the Golden Boot in MLS. Despite their dominance throughout the game, a brief lapse in play halfway through the second half ultimately cost Orlando three points.

In the inaugural season of MLS establishing summer evenings as their designated time slot, the season started off with a bang. Two former World Cup stars squaring off in front of the largest crowd for MLS in the 21st century.

While the game ended in the dreaded tie, it was a hard fought battle between two superstar laden teams and a great atmosphere overall, demonstrating the unbelievable growth of this league. Comparing this showing in Orlando to the only time MLS had a bigger crowd, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s inaugural game in 1996, it’s amazing what this league has blossomed into. While MLS has a long way to go to solidify its place as a top global league, games like the one we saw Sunday demonstrate the incredible potential of this league to flourish. I look forward to watching it grow.

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