Sitdown with Orlando City: Sellout crowds, becoming best in MLS, soccer pyramid stronger – Part II

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On Friday we released the first in a two part interview with Orlando City Soccer Club’s Co-Owner and President Phil Rawlins and head coach Adrian Heath after their franchise become Major League Soccer’s 21st team earlier in November.

Both spoke openly about their desire to bring a big name to Orlando in their debut season in MLS, about how a franchise run by David Beckham in Miami could see the Southeast rival the Pacific Northwest as a soccer hotbed and how they’re aiming to emulate the likes of the Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.

PART I – Orlando City: Taking on Beckham, emulating the Timbers, Kaka in 2015

In Part II, we chat about how Orlando aim to fill out their brand new stadium downtown when it arrives midway through the 2015 MLS season, discuss the American soccer pyramid and talk about their aims to become the leading light in MLS.

So, over to Phil Rawlins (PR) and Adrian Heath (AH) for the final installment of our absorbing chinwag.

On the British ex-pat community in Orlando and trying to target them:

AH: I think if you look at it, we’ve got a real melting pot here. Not just British people who we know love the game, the South American influence with the Brazilians and Colombians and central Americans, it’s a real melting pot. Invariably it’s countries where people love the game, we know that they’re the people who hopefully will come. But I think some people forget the fact that the latest stuff that we did, most of them were American.

PR: If you look at the crowd, it’s a melting pot. If you saw the video of the county commission meeting when our fans got up to speak, Adrian and I talked about it after, it was like the United Nations, we had people from everywhere. We had Hondurans, Venezuelans, Brazilians, Brits, French, Canadians, it was like a who’s who of the world. That really reflects the community we have here in Central Florida, we’ve got a very eclectic group of people, very multicultural and people from soccer loving countries as Adrian said.

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Sellout crowds are the aim for Orlando City, as a new downtown stadium awaits

It’s great on a match day, you see a guy from the Caribbean stood next to a guy from South America stood next to a Brit and they all love their football.

On attendances and getting bums on seats straight away:

PR: It’s our goal obviously, we will start off in the Citrus Bowl and we’ll have a lot of space to expand their. That will still be a 65,000 seater stadium when we start. But mid-season we aim to be in the new stadium and a capacity around about 20,000, our goal has got to be to sell that out every week. I really admire what Portland have done in their market place, very similar market here in terms of size and a young city. Orlando is probably a more culturally diverse city than Portland but other than that we’re very similar with both of us having an NBA team. You have got to look at what Meritt Paulsson and the guys have done up at the Timbers, a great job of filling their stadium week in, week out, that’s got to be our goal.

Honestly I’m very bullish on the fact that we can do that. If you look at the interest we’ve built over three years we’ve steadily built our crowds to a regular season average of over 8,000 last year and then the 21,000 we got for the Championship game proves that we can do that. To further reinforce it, two weeks ago when we had the USWNT here we had another 21,000 crowd with only 3 weeks’ notice.

We know we’ve got a real hotbed for soccer and a really passionate group of fans down here, so why wouldn’t we aim to sell out every week?

On the future of soccer and MLS in the USA, is there a tipping point on the horizon?

AH: From my point of view, everywhere I go I just see it getting bigger and better, stronger and more popular by the day. Recently I spent a little bit of time up in Seattle with the Sounders people and went to meet the people at the Timbers and all they’re telling me is positive stuff. It certainly isn’t plateauing out for them.

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Throughout their years in the lower leagues, Orlando has helped the soccer pyramid in the U.S. strengthen

Recently Seattle have had two 60,000 plus crowds. I went to watch Portland play in a sell out on the Friday night and then there was 8,500 for the reserves the following night. I think the game is growing and I think, like you said we’ve been here a similar amount of time [5-6 years], the growth in the game in that short period has been unbelievable. What with the World Cup coming up next year that’s only going to help, especially if the States can do really well in it. I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. I think there’s still a lot more growth in the game.

On the USL Pro and NASL’s future helping the future strength of soccer in the USA:

PR: They’re both doing equally well and they’re both growing. We’re leaving USL Pro, it’s been a great home for us. We’ve got one more year to do and we’ll certainly be trying our best on the field, I know Adrian would love to win another Championship if we could. That league has just gone from strength-to-strength over the years. The future is really bright for USL Pro in the next two or three years, it’s going to do very, very well. The relationship now with MLS has made it that much stronger/ We’ve got a true first and second division, although we don’t have promotion and relegation but we have two strong leagues there. I think the future is very bright for USL Pro as they get into the right size market places with quality teams and quality owners.

AH: The other thing is that on the field it’s getting stronger, the clubs who are doing well are doing very well. But on the field, all of a sudden everyone we played last year had ex-MLS players and people on loan from MLS. The standard is getting better. As much as it’s in competition with USL, I think NASL are doing a good job at what they’re doing as well.

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Big Dreams: The ultimate goal for MLS’ newest franchise when it arrives in 2015

On the vision for them in MLS and how far Orlando can go:

PR: Adrian and I have worked together since day one on this project and when we first sat down at the very beginning we said, ‘let’s not measure ourselves by the people around us and competitors… let’s set our own standards.’ We’ve done that at the USL level for many, many years now and we’ve probably been influential in raising a lot of standards around the league. I don’t want to sound cocky about this but we want to do the same with Major League Soccer.

We are going to come in and as Adrian said, we’re not just here to play, we’re here to win. We want to win an MLS Cup, I won’t be silly enough to put a timescale on it but we want to win one and get into the CONCACAF and I think we have a very unique marketplace and a one-off opportunity. We have the most visited city in the world and we are marrying it with the world’s biggest game. The possibilities of that on a global scale are endless.

Off the field we have the vision and the goal to build a global brand of the team. There’s a lot of work to do but there’s just endless possibilities. That’s the way we both see it.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.