Orlando City came into MLS this season with a pretty clear plan. The club would play its expansion season at the Citrus Bowl, a 70,000-seat football stadium, while building its new soccer-specific stadium downtown. Then, in the team’s second year, it would move into their shiny new digs.
The plan was great. Until it wasn’t. Orlando City ran into an enviable problem – the club was too popular.
The original stadium plans called for a 19,500-seat stadium, but the team is averaging nearly 34,000 fans per game in its inaugural season. Even their lowest attended game of the season (23,372) would be way too many people for the venue under construction. Toss in some issues with getting state funding for the stadium, and the Lions realized they had to change things.
Orlando City tossed its stadium plans out and started fresh. The club still had its same stadium site, in downtown and walking distance to the downtown bars, but now a different stadium would be built on the site, with 100 percent private funds.
On Friday, the Lions released those stadium plans. And they’re gorgeous.
The stadium isn’t elegant in the way Sporting Kansas City’s Sporting Park or the New York Red Bulls’ Red Bull Arena is, but it’s unique. It has four distinct stands, something common in traditional soccer stadiums, but rare among more modern stadiums. It also has a roof over all four stands, with a steep rake all around to make for an intimidating atmosphere.
Orlando City’s new digs will check in at 25,500 seats and, if its opening season is any indication, it will be packed every match. The playing surface will be grass, a welcome change from the artificial turf at the Citrus Bowl, and a dedicated supporters’ section has been designed into the stadium that will allow for standing throughout.
All in all, it looks like Orlando City nailed it with its new stadium design, the third largest soccer-specific stadium in MLS, and the second largest in the U.S. Despite that, there are concerns that it might not be big enough. After all, the club is averaging 8,000 more fans per game than the new building will hold and the trend in U.S. soccer and MLS is that fan interest grows. The good news is that OCSC owns the land to the east of the stadium, so if fan interest is so great that the club wants to add more seats, it can expand.
The price for the stadium comes in at $155 million. That’s a big price tag, but with the way things are going in Orlando, it’s going to be worth it when the building is full for each and every match.
So that old plan? It’s out the window. Here’s the new plan:
Play the first season at the Citrus Bowl, then start the second season there, too. About halfway through 2016, a brand new 25,500-seat stadium in downtown Orlando will open. Even with the second biggest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S., it will be packed. Not a bad entry into MLS.
Photos via Orlando City SC