Dearly beloved, we are gathered here this evening not to eulogize a soccer season, but to celebrate a group of soccer supporters.
We are here to pay our respects to an announced crowd of 23,723 Orlando City fans who showed up Saturday night to watch a meaningless late-season scoreless draw between their free-falling franchise and the Houston Dynamo.
Bless your hearts.
Bless your passionate, pumping purple hearts.
You could be doing anything else on a Saturday night in September.
You could be home watching the Florida-Tennessee game on ESPN.
You could be home watching Mississippi State-Kentucky on ESPN2.
It might even be more entertaining watching UNLV-Arkansas State on ESPN3.
You could be doing whatever you want, but you choose to be here — at the Purple Palace — cheering and chanting, raving and ranting for your team.
A team that is one of the worst in MLS.
A team that lost nine straight matches at one point this season and had won just once in its last 20 matches.
A team that is on the verge of giving up more goals than any MLS club in the 25-year history of the league.
A team that rolled over and gave up in an embarrassing, humiliating 4-0 dismantling at the hands of an equally abysmal Chicago side last week. The performance was so pathetic that even national broadcasters were saying Orlando City quit during the game.
They gave up on you last week, but, yet, you supporters refuse to give up on them this week.
“You can’t ever give up on your team,” says Victor Rosa, who attended Saturday night’s game with his brother Misael. “You have to have a passion for your team no matter what.”
Misael points to the hat he is wearing — an Orlando Magic hat.
“We go to the Magic games, too,” he says. “If we haven’t given up on the Magic, we’re not going to give up on the Lions.”
But, guys, you deserve so much better.
You deserve to be cheering for a team that is making a playoff run; not a team that once again is just playing out the string.
Amazingly, Orlando City fans continue to show up with their purple wigs and purple painted faces and purple pride. The lowest announced attendance this season was 22,337 and the average announced attendance is 24,139. Orlando City is fifth in the league in attendance behind Atlanta, Seattle, Toronto and the L.A. Galaxy.
Except the four teams ahead of them in attendance have given their fans something to cheer about over the years. Atlanta came into the league just last year, made the playoffs in Year 1 and has the best record in MLS this season. Seattle, Toronto and the L.A. Galaxy have a combined seven MLS Cups between them.
Orlando City has never even made the playoffs and given their fans nothing but a smoldering tire fire of imprudence, impatience, fired coaches and failed plans.
Coaches, players and team executives say it’s going to get better, but they don’t say how. New coach James O’Connor, who took over midseason for fired coach Jason Kreis, claims that fans will be repaid for their patience and passion.
“The best analogy I can give is that the club has gone through a period where we’re sick,” O’Connor said earlier this week. “Like anyone who is sick, you need to make them better. We understand what’s needed to make us better and we will do that, and we will give the supporters what they want, for sure.”
The worry is that the Lions aren’t just sick; the worry is that they’re in a comatose state with no indication when and if they will ever wake up.
O’Connor insists that’s not the case. In fact, he talks so confidently about his ability to bring this dying team back to life, you’d think he has pair of magic defibrillator paddles on order from Amazon.
“I can promise you we’re going to get it right here,” O’Connor says. “Obviously, it hasn’t happened as quickly as I had hoped. I have very high expectations of myself. Initially, when I was appointed, my hope was we could get it turned around and get results and get into the playoffs. That was obviously a little bit too ambitious, but it hasn’t made me lose any kind of belief in what we’re doing. I have a full understanding what’s needed. Rest assured, we’ll be able to get what we want next year.”
Those are bold words for the coach of the last-place team in the conference. How exactly O’Connor plans to transform this team from worst to first remains a mystery.
The fact is, the roster was completely rebuilt before the season and the result has been a miserable failure. What now? Does Orlando City rebuild again? Do they have the financial flexibility to rebuild again? And after such a disastrous result this season, do they allow this same front office to orchestrate the next rebuild? Or do they simply saddle O’Connor with essentially the same set of players that have already proven they can’t or won’t perform for him?
“I don’t think there are any quick fixes; I think we need another overhaul and that could take a while,” loyal supporter Misael Rosa says.
Brother Victor isn’t deterred.
“No matter what they do,” he says, “we’ll be here for them.”
Bless your hearts.
Bless your passionate, persevering purple hearts.