By Ben Castaneda
Back in early March, I was fortunate enough to get into contact with personnel at Orlando City SC in order to try to set up an interview with club founder and president Phil Rawlins. Unfortunately, I was unable to have a one-on-one interview with Mr. Rawlins. Thankfully, the personnel at OCSC were able to get my questions answered by Phil Rawlins. Below are my questions followed by the answers provided by Phil Rawlins.
Extra Point: Why bring a soccer club to Orlando? What made Orlando stand out for you?
Phil Rawlins: When we began our search, we took a careful look at several marketplaces throughout the United States that would be an ideal fit for our soccer club. After studying Orlando closely, we realized that it was more than just a city with theme parks. Orlando is a booming city with a very multi-cultural and young population, with an average age of 32, all of which aligned very well with demographics that have had success in Major League Soccer.
EP: Did you ever worry that this club would fail and be like the previous Orlando soccer clubs?
PR: No, in our minds, failure wasn’t an option and once we arrived to the City Beautiful, the supporters, really helped reinforce that. Our fans have been fantastic since day one, and it’s been remarkable to see them grow in tremendous numbers each year.Embed from Getty Images
EP: Why did the organization start a youth soccer club?
PR: Youth development has always been a key pillar for our soccer club. When Adrian Heath (Head Coach of OCSC) and I ventured on this journey together, player development was an area that we wanted to be an important focus for us. Not only do we want to be one of the most successful MLS clubs in the league, but we also want to develop young players from Orlando and hopefully see several of them graduate into our first team. As of right now, we currently have over 2,000 boys and girls in our youth program, Orlando City Youth Soccer, and we expect that number to steadily grow through various affiliate programs that we hope to implement down the road.
EP: Was there ever a point during talks with MLS that you thought this might not happen?
PR: We were always very confident that we would make it into MLS. Commissioner Don Garber gave us three areas that we needed to achieve to make MLS to Orlando a reality – a strong ownership group, proven marketplace, and a downtown soccer stadium – and we accomplished all three. By no means was it an easy task but with hard work, a little bit of luck, and strong support from the community and political leaders, we were able to make it happen.Embed from Getty Images
EP: Why the color purple?
PR: The color purple is such an important aspect of our brand because very few teams in the world wear purple. It’s a very distinct and unique color, and the city has really embraced it throughout the past four years.
EP: When the club became the 21st team in the MLS, did you ever expect to see 62,510 fans fill the Citrus Bowl?
PR: It was always our goal to “Fill the Bowl” for opening day in MLS. Our motto here at Orlando City is to “Defy Expectations,” so we’re always striving to do the unthinkable. Nevertheless, March 8th was a very emotional day for our organization and myself. To see 62,510 fans at the Citrus Bowl was another sign of how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.Embed from Getty Images
EP: What was going through head when you found out that Orlando will have an MLS team? When you saw the Citrus Bowl filled to capacity?
PR: When we realized that the franchise was going to finally be awarded to Orlando I was ecstatic! It was everything that we had worked for. We knew we had to act quickly to secure the opportunity for Central Florida.
On Sunday when I saw the Citrus Bowl full to capacity it was breathtaking. Great to know that so many people in our community feel so passionately about our club and it has such unbelievable support.
EP: Your pitch to sell this team to MLS was that soccer was missing in the Southeast, could Orlando be the team for the southeast? How does Atlanta fit in for 2017?
PR: We’ve certainly made a strong case to be the team for the southeast. Over the past several years, Orlando has earned the moniker ‘Soccer Capital of the South’ due to our previous championship success, fantastic fan support and record crowds, which we expect remain with us in MLS. From a rivalry standpoint, having a team in Atlanta and possibly Miami would be fantastic for us and for the league. We’ve seen the effect rivalries have had in other parts of the country, such as the Cascadia region with Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Having a similar environment here in the southeast would be great for the team and our fans.
EP: What does the future hold for this club? For MLS? For soccer in the US?
PR: Soccer in the US is on a huge upswing, growing in both interest and attendances. The MLS can be at the forefront of this growth. I believe the MLS can be one of the top leagues in the world in the next few years. For Orlando, our job is to be one of the top five teams in MLS as it grows and to establish ourselves as a top International soccer brand.Embed from Getty Images
In my next article, I will go more in depth with Mr. Rawlins’ answers to my questions. I would like to once again thank Orlando City and Phil Rawlins for getting my questions answered.