As the final seconds ticked away and defeat loomed for more than 60,000 purple-clad fans in the stadium, there was a feeling that Sunday’s MLS debut for Orlando City was never going to be a fairytale ending. Luckily, though, for the league’s new boys, former AC Milan and Real Madrid star Kaka was there to rescue some pride as well as a point.
New York City FC did its part to stay in a game Orlando City seemed in control of in phases and Mix Diskerud scored a beautiful goal worthy of winning a game on its own, but the lively atmosphere and the city’s MLS dream-come-true screamed for a storybook ending.
And there was the Brazilian to deliver just what the match needed. The attacking midfielder blasted a free kick off of defender Jeb Brovsky that eventually bounced past Josh Saunders to bring Orlando City the positive start it was yearning for.
“Everything that happened tonight was incredible for everybody,” Kaka said. “Our first game, the crowd here, the supporters, this team, we are doing something very special.”
Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath wore a modest smile after the match. The boss battled the conflicting emotions of dropping points, but also having seen a day he’d spent years waiting for finally arrive.
“Obviously I’m not completely delighted with the final score because I think we played a good game,” Heath said. “I”m extremely proud with everyone. The staff, the players and our supporters. It was absolutely incredible. Something I’ll remember forever.”
While they only took a point from the game, it would have felt like a victory for a side that few could have envisioned even existing just five years ago, when Orlando had no football team to speak of.
“What we’ve done in seven years has been quite remarkable really,” Heath told Goal. “To build something from absolutely nothing. It really is a dream.”
MLS in Orlando was a dream first envisioned by Phil Rawlins, who moved his United Soccer League team, the Austin Aztex, to Orlando in 2010 and renamed the club Orlando City SC. He set out a plan to join MLS in five years. The plan seemed far-fetched at the time, given the city’s relatively non-existent history in the sport.
Orlando City’s aggressive courtship of a place in MLS, and successful work to grab a foothold in the community helped turn them from a longshot to the latest market that left MLS commissioner Don Garber amazed.
“The atmosphere is just unbelievable,” Garber said at half-time of Sunday’s match. “We knew there was a lot of excitement building in this city. The city has been painted purple for a week and it’s a great way to kick off our 20th season.”
Sunday’s match wasn’t just the start of Orlando City’s existence. NYCFC came away with a point in its first MLS match, and Jason Kreis’ team turned in a respectable debut. Spanish star David Villa joined Kaka as the latest superstars to arrive in MLS, while Mix Diskerud signaled his intent to grab headlines by scoring in his MLS debut.