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.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…