( – The following is a story I wrote for the June 15, 2015 edition of Lions Roar, the gameday magazine of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club, touching on the excitement surrounding new plans for a soccer-specific stadium – )
There has been plenty of excitement to go around locally throughout the first three months of the Major League Soccer season. But not even wins, losses or draws have sparked such passion from Orlando City SC supporters as that of the status of a new soccer stadium.
No matter the forum, there remains a lingering sense of anticipation and excitement renewed each time an update is provided on the Orlando City Soccer Club’s new venue.
Club officials made quite the splash at a press conference on May 29 by proclaiming the development of a soccer-specific stadium in Orlando’s Parramore area ready for liftoff.
That the club will privately fund its new stadium not only assures fans the project will indeed get off the ground, but also serves as a reminder of just how close the dream is to becoming reality.
This much is certain, no matter the details from here on out, there will be no more worrying about the specifics for the Orlando City faithful.
“All it does is increase the anticipation exponentially,” said OCSC season ticket holder Brett Bowman. “We know it’s coming, but to hear something that’s finalized and actually on the way, it just makes you crawl with excitement to know that next summer we’re going to be in our real home.”
It’s been the support over the years of fans like Bowman – and perhaps more specifically the outpouring of support by the community this season – that has continued to elevate the franchise to such heights in 2015.
“The Citrus Bowl has been really fun to go to, but now to take it a step further and having our own stadium is just an amazing sense of pride,” Bowman said. “It makes the fans feel good, like by attending these games we’ve helped make it possible to facilitate this privately funded stadium. It makes you feel that much more a part of the process.”
When the club relocates just a mile down the road from where it got its start there’s sure to be a plethora of unforgettable memories in tow as the transition takes place.
After all, the Citrus Bowl is where the soccer seed was planted back in 2011 when the Lions initially arrived in Orlando. It’s where league records were set, championships were won, and where the glorious debut in MLS took place in front of a capacity crowd and nationally televised audience.
But there’s been even more groundwork laid over the years at the Citrus Bowl that will forever remain ingrained in OCSC fandom for years to come.
“That’s where we’ve made new friendships,” Bowman said of the Citrus Bowl. “I can’t tell you how many new friends that I have just from going to Orlando City tailgates and spending time with people before the games. That’s the added bonus that you don’t expect when you start pulling for a team, that you actually get family from it.”
Judging by the crowds that have marched into the Citrus Bowl this season, which have increased by an average of nearly 30,000 compared to the previous four years spent in the minor leagues, it appears he’s not alone in that assessment.
“For me, the Citrus Bowl is where I fell in love with Orlando City SC, so I’ll definitely think back on it as the first stage for the team,” said fellow season ticket holder Craig Mazer. “That oversized stadium has been a great breeding ground for Orlando fans, as the opening-night MLS game proved. But there’s something special about [a stadium] being ‘your home,’ as opposed to sharing a venue. And having a seating capacity that can fill the house game after game creates an energized environment.”
The new stadium is projected to seat between 25-to-28,000 spectators, which could become the second largest in MLS should maximum capacity be built. And its arrival is likely to breathe new life into downtown bars and restaurants as fans flock to the area to take part in pre-match festivities while just a walk or shuttle ride away from the new site.
“We’ll embrace those times at the Citrus Bowl and look forward to the new memories,” Charles Frizzell said. “The one thing I’ll miss about the past few years while playing games at the Citrus Bowl is that 10 or 12 of us could get together with not much notice and get seats all together, and now with the new level of excitement and interest, that’s not something that’s as easy to do anymore.”
Frizzell sits next to Bowman in section 131 at Orlando City matches and has had an eye on stadium development for quite some time as he plans to become a fixture in the downtown area. He’s partnering up with others in a joint venture that will merge two craft breweries at a location on Church Street about a thousand feet from the proposed stadium location.
But even with the outside business opportunities that await in the club’s new neighborhood, Frizzell knows a new stadium is all about cementing OCSC’s existence in Orlando for the long term.
“It helps create a sense of identity, and hopefully with that identity the more soccer-specific nature of the stadium will help enhance the experience,” he said.