Brian Straus reports that MLS commissioner Don Garber will meet March 1 with Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, city leaders and fans of USL Pro (third division) club Orlando City, which has every intention of transitioning from minor to major league.
“While New York City remains the League’s focus for our 20th club, it’s important to continue evaluating future options as we continue to grow the league,” Garber said. “This growth has been built on a foundation of strategic expansion strategies and a growing passionate soccer fan base across North America. As such, I’ve been impressed with Orlando City’s success on and off the field and look forward to meeting with local supporters and speaking directly with key public officials about the future of professional soccer in Orlando.”
City played its first season in Orlando last year after moving from Austin, Texas. Owned and run by Phil Rawlins, an investor in English Premier League club Stoke City, Orlando drew around 5,500 fans per game in its inaugural season at the Citrus Bowl and won the USL Pro championship. More than 11,000 showed for the final.
Last fall, Rawlins told Sporting News that entry into MLS by 2014 wasn’t out of the question. The big leagues have been his target since he acquired the former Austin club, and next week’s meeting with Garber won’t be the first. But the commissioner’s March 1 visit will be the most public and will include a “town hall” style interaction with fans at an Orlando restaurant. Garber’s trip will coincide with the third Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, a preseason tournament that will feature City, six MLS clubs and Sweden’s BK Häcken and run Feb. 24-March 3.