On this one night, all eyes across Major League Soccer were on the City of Orlando.
But moving forward, it’s imperative that those same eyes be focused on Orlando City.
Weather notwithstanding, hosting the MLS All-Star Game on a rainy Wednesday night was certainly a commendation to Orlando’s reputation as a soccer destination, but that reputation can only be enhanced and perpetuated by Orlando City. If we truly expect to be a serious candidate to host lucrative World Cup games in 2026, Orlando City must step up its game and ramp up the soccer passion in this city.
Central Florida presented the MLS All-Star Game Wednesday night at Orlando City’s privately financed Exploria Stadium and culminated a successful several days of league-sponsored community events. Give MLS, the Greater Orlando Sports Commission and Orlando City tons of credit for putting on a first-class event that successfully showcased soccer in our community.
Of course, the weather once again refused to cooperate. What is it with Orlando hosting professional all-star games that turns the City Beautiful into the City Cloudburst? MLS was forced to delay the kickoff of Wednesday night’s All-Star Game for 40 minutes due rain and lightning even before the All-Stars and their renowned international opponent, Atlético Madrid, took the pitch. It’s never a good sign when the stadium scoreboard before the game blared out this message in big, bold letters: “INCLEMENT WEATHER: PLEASE SEEK SHELTER!”
That was the bad news. The good news: The weather improved slightly and wasn’t nearly as bad as the all-day torrential downpour that ruined the Pro Bowl in January. And most of the sellout crowd of 25,527 sat through the steady rain and stuck it out until the end to watch Atlético Madrid rout the MLS All-Stars 3-0.
Despite the rainy game night and a fourth consecutive All-Star Game loss by the MLS squad, league officials applauded Orlando’s effort during All-Star Week and commended Orlando City for putting its best foot forward.
“It’s not just a game, it’s a week of celebration,” Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão said earlier this week. “It’s a way to celebrate soccer; it’s a way to show our platform to our fans and to the community. It’s a time to show what soccer is capable of and having that in our backyard for a week is phenomenal.”
Leitão, of course, is correct on all fronts, but there’s no question the atmosphere around the event would have been even more euphoric if Orlando City were as relevant on the pitch as it’s been off the pitch. Case in point: A year after a record crowd of 72,317 packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for last year’s All-Star Game, it wasn’t until just before kickoff that MLS announced a sellout for Wednesday’s match.
There’s no question, this game would have been a hard sellout instead of a soft one if Orlando City were more successful on the pitch. In contrast, Atlanta is awash with soccer passion because its MLS team — Atlanta United — has done what we all thought Orlando City was going to do when it entered the league five years ago.
Atlanta United won the MLS Cup in only its second season of existence a year ago while Orlando City is still looking for its first playoff berth five years after that amazing MLS launch at the Citrus Bowl. Who will ever forget that earth-shaking, groundbreaking day when every ticket was sold and a standing-room-only crowd of 62,000 waved their flags, banged their drums and sang “Olé, Olé, Oh-lando!” at Orlando City’s first game. The match was televised live in America, Brazil, the United Kingdom and in more than 100 countries and 30 languages.
Back then, former Orlando City president and team co-founder Phil Rawlins said he expected Orlando City to make the playoffs in its very first season and the City of Orlando would become the soccer capital of America.
We can still be that soccer-crazy city, but it’s up to Orlando City. And it needs to start now. Orlando City absolutely needs to build on the excitement created by MLS All-Star Week. Both Leitão and Luiz Muzzi, the vice president of soccer operations, insisted on Wednesday night Orlando City is on the cusp of finally turning the corner. We shall see. Orlando City is still much closer to the bottom of the standings than the top. Orlando City manager James O’Connor, the head coach of the MLS All-Stars, said Orlando City players should all be motivated and inspired by having the league’ s showcase event being held in their home stadium.
If Orlando is going to take the next step toward becoming a soccer mecca, Orlando City needs to be the catalyst. If Orlando is going to be one of the cities chosen to host World Cup matches in 2026, Orlando City needs to elevate its game and thus elevate Orlando’s status as an international soccer destination. Carlos Cordeiro, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, was in town for the All-Star Game and was said to be impressed with Orlando as a potential World Cup host. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was at the game on Wednesday night and was singing the praises of Orlando as “a natural” to host World Cup matches. MLS commissioner Don Garber has been raving about Orlando all week.
The City of Orlando no doubt did its part during MLS All-Star Week.
Now it’s up to Orlando City to do its part for the rest of the MLS season and beyond.