ORLANDO – There was a hearty crowd at Harry Buffalo’s bar on Church Street on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t just the beer and wings that brought people out.
It was actually time to celebrate the growing popularity of a particular sport in Orlando, that being soccer — and to demonstrate there are plenty of soccer fans in the City Beautiful.
“This is really a fan-focused event,” said Chris Jones. “It’s a good chance for everyone to get together in the off season and for everyone to get involved and see what’s going on.”
On Tuesday, Orlando City Soccer Club held its second annual fan forum, as a way of updating fans on Major League Soccer and to discuss new ventures for the 2013 season — including a highly anticipated match in 2013.
OCSC is a premier professional soccer sports franchise, and a member of the USL PRO. A growing number of Central Floridians have been watching this year as Orlando City Soccer entered the playoff series as the top team in the league and as the defending USL Pro Champions.
“We keep on continuing to grow as a club, and this is about continuing to educate everyone about soccer,” said Jones, the media relations director for the OCSC. “It’s a major league franchise.”
OSCS wanted to use the Fan Forum at Harry Buffalo’s to pack the bar with Lions fans, and door prizes were handed out, including the team’s 2013 Jersey, four Legoland Florida theme park tickets, and “Buffalo Bucks” vouchers.
And, of course, there was time to talk about the big plans in 2013.
Orlando City SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies just announced a home and away preseason friendly starting in March of 2013. The first match will be in Orlando at the Florida Citrus Bowl on Saturday, March 9, with the second one on Saturday, March 30 in St. Petersburg at Al Lang Stadium.
“We just announced we’re playing against the Rowdies, and that was big for us,” Jones said. “You’re looking at the U.S. Open Cup there.”
The Lions and Rowdies are both recent champions in the USL PRO and NASL. The Central Florida Sports Commission also announced that both clubs will be taking part in Soccer Spring Training and the Disney Pro Soccer Classic tournament, which will be held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Feb. 9, 2013 with the tournament culminating in the championship game on Feb. 23.
The tournament will feature six Major League Soccer teams participating in Spring Training, as well as NASL Champion Tampa Bay Rowdies and USL PRO Regular-Season Champion Orlando City Soccer Club.
“We are excited for our fans that have been able to arrange what we hope will be an annual preseason competition with the Rowdies,” said Orlando City President Phil Rawlins. “It should be a terrific local derby.”
“The Rowdies are excited to face off against MLS clubs in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic,” added Rowdies President and General Manager Andrew Nestor. “We’re starting the 2013 preseason one month earlier than 2012 to participate in this event and play top competition in order to maintain a championship caliber team. We’re proud to represent NASL in this tournament, and the event against Orlando City will be another great experience for our fans.”
Tickets for the first match in Orlando can be purchased by calling 855-ORL-CITY, while tickets for the second match in Tampa Bay will go on sale at a later date and will be able to be purchased through Rowdies Soccer.
The Lions are also taking orders for the new home jerseys, once unveiled.
On March 4, 2010, the USL announced that a pro club was coming to Orlando, and on Oct. 25, 2010, the club unveiled its name as the Orlando City Lions.
Last year was a busy one for the Lions. In April 2011, the team had its first Road Win against the Charlotte Eagles, and on June 4 2011, its first locally television match, followed by its first U.S. Open Cup match – and win.
The first International Win came on July 23 against Newcastle United of England.
Mayor Buddy Dyer has been busy encouraging city residents to wear purple on game days during the playoffs.
The Lion’s pro team has won two regular season titles and one postseason championship during its short time in Orlando. Outside of the pro squad, OCSC also has their own youth club, Orlando City Youth Soccer (OCYS) and a U23s team that participates in the PDL.
For more information on the pro and youth clubs, visit Orlando City Soccer and Orlando City Youth.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@mail.com.