The last time the Lions played at the Citrus Bowl was on September 3rd where they went down a man early in the match, salvaged a late tie and then won on penalty kicks to secure the USL PRO title over Harrisburg. It was the stuff of movies, a rookie franchise hosting the championship match and beating one of the best teams in the league in a shoot out in front of over eleven thousand fans. Needless to say, Orlando has Lions fever and that momentum carried through the off season and up to tomorrow where Orlando City will take on MLS side the Philadelphia Union in a preseason tune up at the Citrus Bowl at 7:30pm.
For Orlando City the off season has probably been more challenging than the previous that involved relocating the team from Austin and setting up shop in Orlando. The lions were the "new kid in school", drawing on several thousand fans each match who wanted to see what all the talk was about. Like with many new sports franchises the second year is usually the most difficult because the newness is gone and you're left with a team like the rest. Phil Rawlins and the front office staff at Orlando City have gone out of their way to ensure the Lions sophomore season is just as successful (if not more) than their first. Off the pitch the team has been aggressively marketing itself to the community throughout reach programs such as soccer camps, satellite training facilities, and public appearances. In our talks with Rawlins the goal of the franchise this off season was to work on solidifying the Orlando City pyramid of teams; a big piece of that was solved when City merged with FSA and took over the Seminole Soccer Complex for training and camps. The Lions arguably have a professional pyramid that is comparable to MLS teams and those of some European teams. Beyond out reach the team has been working hard to maintain the star players of the first season by securing Rob Valentino, Sean Kelley, Jamie Watson, and local favorite Dennis Chin. In addition the team has added John "don't-mention-Wayne" Rooney from the NY Red Bulls and another local product in Matt Luzunaris. Retaining the players from last season give the team the advantage of already having played together which makes them the favorite to repeat as USL PRO champions this season. Include an intense pre-season schedule that has already seen the team tie MLS' Seattle Sounders 1-1 in Bradenton last week and taking part in the 8-team Disney Pro Soccer Classic at the end of the month, City are poised for big things. The Lions will look to continue their winning ways as they host the Philadelphia Union for the second year in a row.
For Philly the team has had its fair share of off-season moves as well. It what has been a model franchise for MLS, the Union have seen outstanding attendance numbers while putting a fairly competitive team on the pitch in their first two seasons. The team's biggest move was the departure the trade of star striker Sebastein Le Toux to Vancouver leaving Danny Mwanga all alone as the stand out forward for the team. Mwanga, who had been discussed as a potential transfer to England in the off-season, trained with Aston Villa for several weeks the 20-year-old looks poised to take the lead for the team in a single striker offense. The midfield for the Union is crowded to say the least, with twelve of players on the current roster including Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll, and Amobi Okugo and also featuring new addition Gabriel Gomez. The backline is still managed by team captain Danny Califf who will be getting support from the off-season signing of Chris Albright. The Union also have the MLS all-star game coming to PPL Park in July so this is the start of a high profile season for the team as they look to make a push into the MLS playoffs in the fall.