Regular readers will know we’re big fans of our very own Orlando City Soccer Club, who started play in Major League Soccer in 2015. The new season is about to start – this Sunday, March 5 – and there is more reason than ever to be excited for what’s in store.
Because ‘the Lions’ will have their own purpose-built, all-new stadium to showcase their talents in 2017, and beyond.
The 25,500-capacity Orlando City Stadium will make its debut live on TV for millions worldwide in what will be the league’s showpiece opening weekend fixture, with New York City FC the visitors, and a huge opportunity for our team.
It promises to put Orlando and soccer under the spotlight like never before (including on Sky Sports in the UK, with SS2 screening the opening game live from 10pm), and it gives us even more to offer in terms of visitor attractions, as the new Stadium will definitely be somewhere to see, even if you’re not there for a game.
Just to start with, it will add to the genuine local experiences of a city that is fast developing an international reputation in its own right, beyond the theme parks. We have a world-class performing arts centre, a growing status for fine food and craft beer, some of the best shopping in the country, and authentic American sports.
And much of this development is happening in downtown Orlando, the city centre that many tourists miss in their rush to see Disney, Universal and Co. This is where you will find the new soccer stadium, just four blocks west of Church Street Station, the restaurant and bar hub of downtown.
Here, before every home game, the fans gather in one huge, purple-clad horde and march to the stadium in procession style, complete with drums, chants and flares. It is all perfectly safe and good natured, and it marks the beginning of a unique sporting experience.
Once everyone is comfortably installed in one of the purple-coloured seats (or in the big safe-standing section at one end of the ground), the action can commence – but not before you have sampled some of the unique concession kiosks featuring local food and beverages which are WAY beyond the usual pie-and-pasty offerings in many British soccer grounds.
Just to start with, there is a distinct Latin flavour to some of them, including street tacos and a Cuban bowl that you can customize with an array of different meats such as pork and ground beef. There will be pizza (of course), but also a Meatloaf Burger and even a charcuterie plate, while beer fans will definitely want to try the Floridian specialities of Cigar City Brewing (from Tampa) and Crooked Can Brewery (in nearby Winter Garden).
There is even a cocktail bar serving newly-created concoctions like The Kingston, which mixes Bulleit Rye Whiskey with vermouth, sherry and chocolate and orange bitters (Kingston is the team’s Lion mascot, by the way – and, if he drinks this, no wonder he roars!).
The stadium itself is a classic design with four main stands, all linked by the main concourse that runs behind each stand and is home to the concession kiosks. Each stand is quite steep (at a 33-degree angle) and gives spectators the feeling of being right on top of the action, with great sightlines, full (free) WiFi throughout, energy-efficient lighting and high-def TV screens so you don’t miss anything if you pop out for some tacos or the loo!
There is, of course, a gift shop (next to Gate A in the south-east corner on Church Street) with a great range of souvenirs and apparel, while Game Day also features the Mane Street fan zone (below), with games, giveaways and live music along the street.
Downtown Orlando features plenty of parking, while the Geico Garage, which is part of the Amway Center where the Orlando Magic basketball team play, is also available, and it is only a short walk to the stadium from most car parks.
If you want to stop for a drink beforehand (or afterwards), there will be the new Lion’s Pride pub in Church Street Station later this spring, as well as existing popular watering holes such as Harry Buffalo, Hamburger Mary’s, Ferg’s Depot and Graffiti Junktion.
For memorable meals, you can also choose from Ceviche (great Spanish and Floridian seafood cuisine), Kres Chophouse (steak and seafood), The Rusty Spoon (with an eclectic American menu) and, on nearby Orange Avenue, Kasa restaurant and bar, with a modern small-plate menu.
So, when it comes to a really American day out, but with British overtones, you simply have to put an Orlando City game on your must-see list for Florida. It’s fun, frenzied and friendly, and anyone wearing purple is immediately part of the ‘family.’ Just to give you an idea of how popular this is, the first game was a sell-out almost a month in advance, while for a special stadium Open Day last weekend, almost 10,000 fans turned up just to look around the new digs.
Better still, it is a wonderful mix of cultures, with the region’s Latin side mixing with the European and American, and ending up as a vibrant collage that is uniquely Orlando. One end of the stadium is standing room only for the two main supporters’ groups of The Ruckus and the Iron Lion Firm. Together, they form ‘The Wall’ behind the North goal, and they maintain a non-stop drum-and-chant chorus throughout the game. Quiet it isn’t, but atmospheric it certainly is.
In fact, we’d go as far as to say this is possibly the most authentic and original soccer experience in the whole of the USA at the moment, so make sure you come in full voice. And dressed in purple, of course. After all, purple is the new orange.
The full MLS regular season runs from March to October, with play-offs in November and December, and you can see this year’s fixture list on this link: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/schedule. And if you can’t get into a City game, there is still the second team, OCB, and the women’s league team, the Orlando Pride, who also play at the same stadium, with tickets readily available. So, come on down and get into the purple spirit!
If you have questions about anything to do with sports in Orlando, or anything else to do with Florida, be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link: https://www.attractiontickets.com/forum/forum.php.
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