By Paul Tenorio: Soccer has gripped Central Florida this year with the debut of Orlando City in MLS.
The belief by city and county officials, as well as leadership at Orlando City, is that there is plenty of passion in Orlando for the sport in general – not just MLS.
Orlando City president Phil Rawlins, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs reiterated that sentiment on Monday when they officially announced an international friendly between the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team and rival Brazil to be played at the Citrus Bowl on Oct. 25.
The friendly is part of a 10-game victory tour for the U.S.
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. and the game will air on Fox Sports 1.
“It’s very clear to see that Orlando is a hotbed of soccer,” Rawlins said. “Not only men’s soccer, but women’s soccer, youth soccer. Right across the region we’re seeing unprecedented interest in the game, and unprecedented interest in Orlando City.”
Rawlins called Orlando the “soccer capital of the Southeast,” but Dyer was quick to correct him.
“Let’s [go with] South instead of Southeast,” Dyer said.
Tickets will go on sale for the friendly on Friday, Aug. 21, at 10 a.m. through ussoccer.com. Orlando City season ticket holders will have an opportunity to buy tickets in an advance sale. The pre-sale information will be released at a later date.
Orlando drew 20,274 fans to a friendly between the U.S. and Brazil in 2013, the highest-attended U.S. women’s game that year. This past summer, the U.S. women captured the nation’s attention with a run to their first World Cup championship since 1999.
The World Cup final, a 5-2 defeat of Japan, was the most-viewed soccer game in U.S. television history.
The popularity of the U.S. women during that World Cup title has made an impact on the National Women’s Soccer League, which has seen increased attendance throughout its league. On Monday, Rawlins said the club is still in discussions with the league about bringing an NWSL team to Orlando.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact that we would like to bring a women’s professional team here,” Rawlins said. “We continue to have dialogue with the NWSL. We’ve not taken that to a point where we can make any announcements on it, but we’ve certainly declared our interest; it’s something we’d be very, very interested in. … Our commitment to doing that remains as strong as ever, it’s something we expect to do in the near future.”
Orlando is often compared to Portland, a similar-sized MLS market that has enjoyed comparable success. The city’s NWSL team, the Portland Thorns, averaged 13,679 fans this season before the World Cup. It’s first game after the World Cup brought in a sold-out crowd of 21,144. The team’s average attendance is now 14,923.
Orlando City is aiming to open its new stadium at the end of the 2016 season, and it might make sense to wait until the venue is completed before adding another franchise. Rawlins would not go into further detail about how exactly the team defined “near future,” however.
“As soon as we have some details to release on that we’ll release it,” Rawlins said. “But right now we continue to have very positive dialogue on it with them. I wouldn’t put a timestamp on it because it would be premature, but it’s very much in our intentions and in our plans.”
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