Orlando City celebrate joining MLS

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.

Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Tottenham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday as their hopes of winning the Premier League title were ended.

Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

Spurs looked to be on the brink of their first league win at Chelsea since 1990 as they scored twice just before half time through Harry Kane and Son Heung-min and were cruising.

There were multiple flashpoints in a feisty London derby and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men couldn’t hold on with Gary Cahill pulling on back and Eden Hazard smashing in an unstoppable strike late on to send the home fans wild.

Here’s what we learned from a wild night at Stamford Bridge.


SPURS CAN’T KEEP TITLE HOPES ALIVE

Tottenham did not give up without a fight but they threw away a chance to keep the title fight going until the penultimate weekend of the season.

Pochettino’s side started slowly but after Son and Danny Rose went close, they grew in stature and then the goals arrived. In the 35th minute Kane was played in by a wonderfully simplistic pass from Erik Lamela and Kane showed supreme composure to round Asmir Begovic and tap home. One minute before half time it got better as Christian Eriksen teed up Son to smash home. 2-0. Spurs’ fans were in dreamland.

Even at the start of the second half they pushed hard with Kane getting free on the left and having his curled effort saved. He then flashed a cross across goal which evaded his teammates and Spurs were on top. Chelsea pulled a goal back through Gary Cahill just before the hour mark to liven up a spicy encounter further and then Chelsea pinned Spurs back for the remainder of the game. Willian‘s cross just evaded Diego Costa at the back post as Kyle Walker cleared and then Hazard delivered the killer blow.

Spurs have had a sensational season but they crumbled at Chelsea and have now not won at Stamford Bridge for 27 years. Losing the battle in this manner was the most upsetting for Spurs and their fans.

PASSION BOILS OVER; DEMBELE IN TROUBLE

Right on half time, with Spurs leading 2-0, Danny Rose clattered into Willian in front of the benches. All hell broke loose. Pochettino raced onto the pitch to try and break up the scuffle, players from both teams bundled in and the coaches got involved. It was utter pandemonium as the thrusting passion of a truly vitriolic London derby was in full flow. Amid all that madness a moment of sheer lunacy arose.

Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele had already been at it with John Obi Mikel earlier in the game and, of course, Costa had been going at it with Jan Vertonghen and just about anybody else who wanted a piece. So, Dembele and Costa came together, squared up among the crowd and then the Belgian gouged Costa’s left eyeball with his right finger. Just what was he thinking? Referee Mark Clattenberg missed it but one of his linesman was looking straight at the incident, I mean straight at it, and didn’t tell the referee to act. Dembele will likely be getting a call from the English Football Association this week and can expect a ban for the rest of the season. There is no place for this kind of  behavior. What to follow was almost worse.

There were so many contentious incidents during this game and Clattenberg tried to be lenient and let tackles go to start with, but in the end he dished out 12 yellow cards. Eric Dier flew into tackles against Hazard and Fabregas and how he stayed on the pitch we will never know. At the end of the game it all kicked off again. Coaches, players and officials were involved in a huge brawl at the headed down the tunnel. Severe FA punishment for both clubs, mostly Tottenham, will follow.

Spurs threw away their chance to win the title and they reacted in the worse possible way. It was shambolic the way they ended the game. If it passion, pride and commitement you’re after, look no further than this London derby. It was a belter but is likely to see repercussions, especially for Dembele and probably many others.

HAZARD WINS THE TITLE, AGAIN

Almost 12 months ago Eden Hazard to win Chelsea the Premier League title. On Monday he scored to win Leicester City the Premier League.

Hazard came on at half time with Chelsea 2-0 down and helped changed the game. His incisive running scared Spurs’ defense every time he got on the ball and his sublime curling finish in the 83rd minute made it 2-2 and hammered the final nail in the coffin of Spurs’ title hopes. He hasn’t had the best season, far from it, but he gave the Chelsea fans what they wanted on Monday. To  end Tottenham’s title hopes. See the video above to watch it play out. The home fans were desperate to beat or draw with Spurs and were cheering “Leicester, Champions!” in the final moments and one fan held up a sign for their former manager, and current Leicester boss, Claudio Ranieri: “Do it for Ranieri!”

They did. Fans in Leicester rejoiced as Hazard celebrated in front of Tottenham’s fans following his goal. Last week he spoke of how Chelsea did not want Tottenham to win the league and do whatever they could to stop it happening. Turns out he did it himself. Hazard won the PL for a team for the second-straight season.

WATCH: Leicester players, fans react to winning the Premier League title

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Leicester City fans celebrate Chelsea's second goal as they watch the Barclays Premier League between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Yates's Bar on May 2, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. If Spurs fail to win against Chelsea, Leicester City will become Premier League champions.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League.

With two matches to spare, the Foxes have clinched their first-ever top-flight title in the club’s 132-year history, finishing off the most improbable run in sports history.

While Leicester didn’t get to celebrate the title on the pitch, that didn’t stop the players and fans from celebrating around the city.

 

Leicester City crowned 2015-16 Premier League champions

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Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

I’ll repeat it again: Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League.

One of the greatest fairytales in sporting history is complete.

[ VIDEO: Leicester react to winning PL ]

With nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur drawing 2-2 at Chelsea on Monday, the Foxes become just the sixth team in history to win the Premier League as they won their first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history.

They have an seven-point lead at the top of the table and Tottenham have just two games remaining, meaning Leicester cannot be caught and won the title while watching the game on TV from the comfort of their own home.

[ MORE: Full Leicester City archive

In a season which has defied belief, Leicester has shrugged off the challenge of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City to become the most unlikely champion in PL history and probably English soccer history.

Italian manager Claudio Ranieri has masterminded the success in his first season in charge at the King Power Stadium with the veteran boss moved to tears at the final whistle. He took over last summer after Leicester City survived relegation in the final weeks of last season under Nigel Pearson. They were only promoted back to the PL for the 2014-15 season and have kept a large number of the players who led them from the third tier in 2009.

[ MORE: The perfect storm which Leicester took advantage of

Now, they’ve gone from 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation to PL champions. This is one of the most remarkable stories in sporting history. Period. Maybe even the most remarkable.

Their journey has inspired every other team around the globe and with Jamie Vardy‘s goals, Riyad Mahrez‘s magic, N'Golo Kante‘s running and a defiant defensive unit led by captain Wes Morgan, the Foxes have ridden an incredible wave of euphoria in recent months to get over the line.

[ MORE: Detailing the day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

In truth, every single Leicester player must be lauded and they will go down in history, their names never forgotten in Leicester and further afield.

With streets set to be named after them, calls for Raineri to be knighted and a first-ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League coming up next season, the Foxes have become the biggest sporting story on the planet.

I’ll say it again one more time just in case you don’t believe me: Leicester City are the 2015-16 Premier League champions.

Never in my life did I think I’d be typing those words.

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Hazard’s late goal hands Leicester City the title

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02:   Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur and Diego Costa of Chelsea battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England.jd  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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  • Kane, Son score for Tottenham
  • Hazard equalizes in the 83rd minute
  • Leicester City are Premier League champions

Leicester City are officially your Barclays Premier League champions for the 2015-16 season.

In need of a win to keep their title hopes alive, Tottenham squandered a 2-0 halftime lead at Stamford Bridge, settling for a 2-2 draw with Chelsea to hand Leicester the trophy.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After an even opening to the match, Tottenham scored two late goals before the break to take a commanding lead into the dressing room.

Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 35th minute, capping off a fluid run of play from the visitors. Erik Lamela collected from Christian Eriksen before slotting Kane in with a perfectly-timed through-ball. Kane’s first touch took him around the goalkeeper, leaving him an open net for his league-leading 25th goal of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Less than ten minutes later, Son Heung-min made it 2-0 Tottenham. A turnover from Branislav Ivanovic led to a quick break from Spurs, with Son finishing off just his third Premier League goal of the season.

The first half ended with a touchline melee that saw both benches clear as tempers boiled over. A challenge from Danny Rose on Willian led to a shoving match between the players, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino jumping onto the pitch to separate the two. Pochettino’s presence led to a huge gathering that took a few minutes for referee Mark Clattenburg to quiet down. In the midst of it all, video review showed Mousa Demebele appearing to scratch the face of Diego Costa, which could bring on further punishment from the FA.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Two goals down, Chelsea came out of the break on the front foot, and the Blues pulled a goal back in the 58th minute. Gary Cahill got free of his mark on a corner kick, finding enough room to take a touch and fire a left-footed volley past Hugo Lloris to cut Spurs’ lead to one.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Chelsea looked the better side throughout the second half, with Hiddink’s men determined to end Tottenham’s title hopes. Then, in the 83rd minute, Eden Hazard found an equalizer to give Chelsea a share of the points and Leicester the Premier League title. After scoring his first two league goals of the season last weekend, Hazard’s third was his prettiest, bending a beautiful shot into the top corner to the delight of Leicester fans everywhere.

Tempers flared before the final whistle, but when that whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions.