Not a bad start to the young pre-season for Orlando City coming off draws with MLS clubs Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union in consecutive weeks. Saturday sees the Lions kick-off group play in the 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic against another MLS foe, Toronto FC, who has spent the last two weeks in Central Florida training for the upcoming season. With the matches being held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex the intimidation factor imposed by the Lions supporters will be a bit less without the south end of the Citrus Bowl as their backdrop. Regardless, the Orlando City supporters will be out in numbers to cheer on their team as they attempt to surprise the mostly MLS field and perhaps take home the title. Here is our preview of the match and a look at what both teams have coming up as part of the Disney PSC.
As mentioned previously, Orlando City has started their pre-season with aggressive friendlies against established MLS squads instead of easing into things with some of the local college teams. Last Saturday's match at the Citrus Bowl against the Union was not a great display for the Lions who were down most of the match with John Rooney missing an early penalty kick attempt and the Union's Danny Califf's goal in the first half. Always having a flare for the dramatic the equalizer came in the third and final minute of stoppage time in the second half when Max Griffin evened the match before the whistle. Post match interviews with Coach Heath and others revealed a fairly common theme; the Lions didn't play up to their potential, but still dug down deep to get the draw. With a giant crosshair on their backs as defending USL PRO champions and frequent rumor of MLS Expansion, the Lions will have to convert on all of their scoring opportunities or else their luck for late heroics may run out. No real changes from the team that faced the Union on Saturday are expected for the match against Toronto as Heath attempts to further integrate his newer players into the winning system from last season. Running parallel with the Disney PSC effort for the Lions is the much anticipated town hall meeting with MLS commissioner Don Garber at 11:30am on Thursday March 1st at Mojo Bar in downtown Orlando and the petition effort started at www.OrlandoMLS2013.com.
Since arriving in Orlando on February 14th Toronto have been doing double practice sessions almost every day with the occasional break for a day of rest and a trip to Space Mountain. The Reds missed the playoffs in 2011 for the fifth time in a row, disappointing for a team that has incredible fan support and a good mix of young talent, but not a strong designated player to push them over the top. BMO Field in Toronto has been a haven for the Reds who have averaged over 20,000 fans per match for every season of their existence, though some of the empty seats we see on TV translate into paying fans versus actual fans in attendance. Oddly enough Toronto has done well outside of MLS, winning the Canadian Club Championship for the last three season and advancing to the quarterfinals of CONCACAF Champions League where they will face the LA Galaxy in Toronto on March 7th at a nearly sold-out (40k plus) Rodgers Center. Toronto has shied away from the big name designated player so far this off-season but picked up several players in the supplemental draft, super draft, and trades including Torsten Frings (MF), Danny Koevermans (FW), and Luis Silva (MF). The Reds and coach Aron Winter look to utilize their strong academy system and lots of pre-season practice to improve on their 2011 results.
The Disney Pro Soccer Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports runs from Friday February 24th through Saturday March 3rd and features 6 MLS teams (Toronto, Dallas, Kansas City, Montreal, Vancouver, & Houston), Orlando City, and Sweden's BK Hacken. Tickets are available through www.ticketmaster.com but Orlando City season ticket holders can get discounted packages by calling the team at 855-ORL-CITY.