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Orlando City has one last chance to deliver for fans, reach playoffs | Commentary

Orlando City fans are frustrated after failing to make the playoffs and posting worse records each season

Orlando City fans hope new coach Oscar Pareja can finally lead the Lions to the playoffs. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

One more chance.

One last chance.

One last and final chance.

Orlando City’s frustrated fans, at least many we talked to during Saturday’s much-anticipated season-opener, said they are willing to give team ownership and management a final opportunity to get it right after five miserable, mundane seasons in MLS.

The scoreless draw Saturday night against Real Salt Lake in Orlando City new coach Oscar Pareja’s debut won’t do much to instill excitement among the fans, but it’s Pareja, his charisma and his track record of making the playoffs that gives supporters at least a twinkle of hope. Pareja has made it clear that he wants the fans to be optimistic, but he certainly understands why there has been a sense of skepticism among many supporters.

“You can think that everything will go wrong again or you can choose to think that things will be right,” Pareja said at the team’s media day leading up to the opener. “That’s an election and at this point, there is nothing that I can do to any that will change that. The people and the fans can elect right now … do you expect your day to be good or do you expect your day to be wrong? Do you expect to win the test or to lose it?

Orlando City fans march together into Exploria Stadium ahead of the season opener against Real Salt Lake Saturday in Orlando. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

“Players, owners, administrators, directors, coaches, we are [sacrificing] to make things different and to give all our efforts to change the story of the club,” Pareja added. “Right now, the people who support Orlando City will choose. Do you hope for the good or do you hope for the bad?”

On Saturday night, Orlando City fans gave the new coach the answer he was looking for. Pareja was overwhelmed by the support and raved about the “incredible atmosphere.”

“I wish we could have given them three points because our fans deserved it,” Pareja said.

During an unscientific poll before the game, I interviewed 10 fans and asked whether they were optimistic or pessimistic heading into the season. The results: Six optimists (albeit cautious optimists), two pessimists and two abstentions.

“I’m neutral,” said Tim Tylec, a season ticket holder since Orlando City joined MLS. “The first five years have worn me down a little bit. There are low expectations, but I’m hoping to be surprised.”

Said fellow longtime season ticket holder David Kantrowitz when asked what he believes the general feeling of the fans is: “Everybody just wants to see what happens. It can’t get any worse.”

Let’s hope not. The fact that Orlando City has, in fact, gotten progressively worse since in the five years since joining MLS has been extremely frustrating for the fan base. The Lions finished seventh in the conference in their inaugural season, eighth the second year, then 10th, 11th and 11th.

Before the game, the supporter groups unfurled a tifo, which clearly challenged the team’s ownership and management to do better. In fact, across the bottom of monumental banner, there was an accounting of Orlando’s City’s first five seasons: “Owners 2, Coaches 3, Seasons 5, Players 129, Losses 77.”

Despite the perennial losing, the message at the top of the tifo professed the profuse and profane loyalty of Orlando City’s supporter groups. As the tifo untwisted, it showed a gigantic image of Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street” with the caption: “We’re not f*ing leaving.”

The problem Orlando City has isn’t fans leaving; it’s that fans aren’t coming en masse as they have in the past. Orlando City announced another sellout crowd of more than 25,000 for the season opener, but there was a smattering of empty seats on a brisk, beautiful Saturday night in Orlando.

Eric and Jennifer Thompson have been attending Orlando City matches since the minor-league days and came to the opener Saturday night as they always do — wearing purple wigs with matching dreadlocks. They believe Pareja, who made the playoffs in four of his five seasons as coach of Dallas FC, is the best coach Orlando City has ever had. And they believe Pareja and executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi’s past working relationship will help Orlando City finally put together a playoff team.

“The owners need to let the coaches do their job,” Jennifer said.

“We’re optimistic that this is finally the year,” her hubby added.

One last chance.

One last and final chance.




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