Last Wednesday MLS Comissioner Don Garber announced that MLS plan to expand to add 4 new clubs to its ranks by the year 2020. The announcement came after MLS had just concluded its Board of Governor’s meeting prior to the MLS All Star Game in Kansas City. The question on everyone’s mind after hearing this news was, “where are the expansion franchises going to be?” Orlando City SC front office members believe they are going to be a front runner for one of the four bids.
Majority stakeholder Flavio Augusto da Silva as well as Minority owner and team president Phil Rawlins were present in Kansas City for the MLS All Star Game. Business of soccer had the chance to sit down and speak with both men last Wednesday about the progression of Orlando City SC and their plans for the club moving forward.
Augusto da Silva came to the U.S. in 2009, and told Business of Soccer,
I wanted to be part of a project, something I could be a part of from the early stages. I was attracted to Orlando because it is one of the most visited cities in the world, particularly for Brazilians. I can leverage my connections from Brazil and use them to build a local base in Orlando and then focus on expansion from there.
Augusto da Silva got his start in Brazil with a $10,000 loan, according to the team’s official site, which he used to start a school to teach fluent English to adults. The company, called Wise Up, now has over 400 schools globally, operating in the United States, China, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. After recently selling his company in a multi-million dollar deal, Augusto da Silva turned his attention to one of his true passions, soccer.
Augusto da Silva’s investment in Orlando City SC will be used for many things moving forward, but one of the main items needing monetary attention on the team’s list is a new multi-purpose soccer stadium in downtown Orlando. The club just announced on Wednesday in a press release that they were formally invited to present financial plans for such a stadium to two more investor groups: Orange County Board of Commissioners (August 6th), and the Tourist Development Council (August 9th).
The stadium will be one of the major milestones for the club to complete along the road to bringing a MLS club to the Orlando area, according to team president Phil Rawlins:
There were really 3 major boxes for us to check. First, was solidifying the financial backing and stability for the club. We are very happy to have Flavio join the club and provide just that. Check that box. Next, we needed to prove to MLS that Orlando possessed the market for a team. The city is 25% hispanic, has an average age of 35, and offers a geographic advantage in between Tampa and Jacksonville so I think we have a strong case there. Check that box. Finally, we need to secure a soccer specific stadium, which we hope to do in a few weeks.
Rawlins also pointed out that a MLS team in Orlando would provide the league with its first club located in the southeast, a region that MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said himself is a top priority for league expansion. Rawlins said,
The southeast represents a vacuum for MLS right now, and a team in Orlando would fill that vacuum.
Currently, the furthest south the MLS has a presence on the east coast is D.C. United in the nation’s capital. The southeast region has been dominated in recent years by the NASL, especially in Florida. The league has teams in Tampa Bay (Rowdies) and Fort Lauderdale (Strikers), and just announced another team will be added in Jacksonville for the 2015 season. When asked whether the Florida market would be too crowded after the Jacksonville addition for a MLS team to succeed, Rawlins replied:
The rivalry is good for the game and for growing the fan base. We all have the same end goal, which is to grow the game of soccer in America.
Orlando City SC are well on their way to having all the boxes checked they need to bring a MLS team to central Florida. They certainly make a case for themselves, one that will be hard for MLS to ignore. They won’t be the only city pushing for a MLS expansion bid when it comes decision time, however. Miami is also a very real possibility, with former MLS and European football star David Beckham’s interest more than piqued to invest in a team there. Saint Louis, San Diego, and Oklahoma City are also markets that have been rumored to be on the league’s radar. Still, the Orlando City SC front office believe they have a winning formula, and many who have watched the club’s progression would tend to agree.