By Paul Kennedy
Flavio Augusto da Silva, the Brazilian owner of Orlando City SC, is confident that Orlando will be announced this fall as MLS's 21st team to begin play in 2015.
The Orlando group headed by Orlando City president Phil Rawlins and da Silva made a presentation Wednesday to MLS owners in Kansas City before the AT&T All-Star Game on the club and Orlando market and the downtown stadium it plans to build.
"I don't see any chance of not starting in 2015," says da Silva, who moved to Orlando in 2009 and bought USL PRO's Orlando City in February.
Orlando City's plans for phase one of its stadium project include the construction of an 18,000-seat stadium but are contingent upon getting approval for funding from Orange County to use a Tourist Development Tax, a not uncommon tax charged in the hospitality industry to fund tourism-related development.
Presentations will be made Tuesday to the Orange County Board of Commissioners and three days later to the Tourist Development Council that is studying the economic impact of an MLS team on the Orlando tourism community. Da Silva's target is for the Orange County Board of Commissioners to vote on the Tourist Development Tax in September.
One of the selling points for an MLS club in Orlando is its status as a destination city for Brazilians.
Da Silva, who says 1.5 million Brazilians come to Florida each year, founded the English-language school for adults, Wise Up, with more than 400 schools across Brazil. As the Brazilian economy exploded in the 1990s and multinational companies entered the market, one of the gaps that Wise Up helped fill was the lack of English-speakers in the Brazilian work force.
"Only three percent of the entire population speaks English," says da Silva.
Da Silva left Brazil with his family and moved in 2009 to Orlando, where he became immersed in the local soccer community as a soccer dad.
"I love Brazil," he says, "but when you become a successful businessman, it starts to get a little dangerous so I decided to move my family."
Da Silva commissioned a study of four potential markets in which to start an MLS club -- Orlando, Atlanta, Miami and Minneapolis -- and he settled on his adopted hometown, where Orlando City has been the most successful team in USL PRO since Rawlins moved the Austin Aztex to Orlando in 2011.
"When I met Phil," says da Silva, "I had no doubt Orlando would be the place for us."
He cites strong USL PRO attendance for Orlando City at its current home, the Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando City's Development Academy program with more than 2,000 players and the club's strong support for the city of Orlando as some of Orlando's strengths.
Orlando has often been mentioned as an franchise candidate in tandem with Miami, where David Beckham has been exploring the market in his bid to determine where to exercise the expansion option he acquired from MLS when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007.
"In my opinion," says da Silva, "we are not paired with Miami. We are paired with New York City [which will begin play in 2015]. We believe we are going to get into MLS in 2015. And Miami, if it comes in, will come in 2016."
Da Silva says the plan is to begin work on the downtown soccer stadium in 2014 and for it to open in the second half of Orlando's first MLS season in 2015.
The cost for the first phase of the stadium (including land acquisition) is estimated at $85 million, of which Orlando City would contribute $30 million and $20 million would come from Tourist Development Tax revenues. Orlando City will pay for any cost overruns.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Wednesday night at halftime of the All-Star Game that the league's board of governors approved plans to expand from 20 to 24 teams by 2020.
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