After Orlando City’s incredible 62,000-plus crowd, can MLS thrive in Florida?

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On Sunday, Major League Soccer arrived back in Florida after a 14-year absence. Boy, did it come back with a bang.

62,510 fans crammed into the Citrus Bowl, as Orlando City SC drew 1-1 with fellow expansion side New York City FC to kick off their first-ever season in MLS.

[ RELATED: Three things from KC, RBNY ]

A sea of purple greeted Orlando’s captain Kaka and NYCFC’s skipper David Villa, as two of the league’s high-profile stars were welcomed to central Florida in stunning fashion after the #FillTheBowl campaign proved incredibly successful for Orlando’s first-ever home game.

The success OCSC President Phil Rawlins and his front office staff has had developing and turning Orlando into a soccer city following their domination of the third-tier should not be understated, but the big question is now: can Orlando sustain this level of support?

We have seen in many parts of the U.S. that fans will flock to soccer matches for preseason games involving European teams, U.S. national team friendlies and one-off MLS games at NFL stadiums. But in cities like Seattle, Portland and Kansas City, we have seen stadiums sold out consistently year-on-year as their MLS teams go from strength-to-strength.

Take a look at the average attendances from around the league this weekend, as an average of 25,838 turned up across the U.S. and Canada.

  • LA Galaxy v Chicago Fire – 27,000
  • DC United v Montreal Impact – 11,549
  • Philadelphia Union v Colorado Rapids – 18,022
  • Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC –  21,000
  • FC Dallas v San Jose Earthquakes – 15,236
  • Houston Dynamo v Columbus Crew SC – 22,351
  • Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake – 21,144
  • Orlando City SC v New York City FC – 62,510
  • Sporting Kansas City v New York Red Bulls – 19,784
  • Seattle Sounders v New England Revolution – 39,782

Orlando will play at the Citrus Bowl for the entirety of the 2015 MLS season and it is not unreasonable to believe they could attract an average crowd of over 30,000. If they do that, then demand for tickets in their brand new 19,500 capacity downtown stadium will go through the roof for 2016 and beyond. With only the NBA’s Orlando Magic as the other major league sports franchise in town, similarities can be drawn to Kansas City, Seattle and Portland who are each missing either one or multiple major league sports franchises. A gap in the market in each city has seen sports fans jump on the MLS bandwagon and it could happen once again in Orlando. Yet in the background in Florida, caution lurks as the memory of the defunct franchises of Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion serve as a warning. But times have changed and the professional soccer landscape in 2015 is a lot different than it was at the turn of the millennium when MLS when in its infancy.

Sunday was an incredible start to Orlando’s MLS adventure, but can their fans keep up their tremendous support and turn Florida into a true soccer hotbed? With Miami’s potential arrival in MLS, and Atlanta definitely turning up in 2017, not only Florida but the southeast promises to be at the forefront of soccer’s growth in the United States of America over the next decade.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

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A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).