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Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão: Training facility at Osceola Heritage Park the right move for the club

Orlando City SC CEO Alex Leitão laughs along side head coach James O'Connor at Sylvan Lake Park. (Jordan Culver-Pro Soccer USA)

ORLANDO, Fla. — There are a host of things Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão is ready to point to while talking about the new culture at Orlando City.

One of the biggest things for Leitão is the club’s plan for a new training facility, which will open at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, instead of at Lake Nona. He called the facility, scheduled to open this summer, a “game-changer” for the club.

“It means that you’re going to have more space to do everything that you want,” Leitão told Pro Soccer USA during an interview at Orlando City Stadium. “You’re going to have four fields – now we have two. I mean, we have all the equipment we’ve always wanted to have. Now we have the possibility to have space to put in that. Cryotherapy, you name it, in terms of for the therapy, preparation. The gym’s going to be three times bigger than what we have right now.

“In the locker room, for instance, I asked the architect, I want absolutely same locker room that we have here [at Orlando City Stadium] at the training facility, so when the players move from one place to the other, they don’t feel like they are moving. They feel like they are in the same place. They are familiar.”

The club announced in November it was pivoting from the previously announced location at Lake Nona.

Orlando City SC initially unveiled plans for a 23-acre, $20 million training facility at Lake Nona Town Center in January 2016. It was going to be developed by Tavistock Development Company.

The Lake Nona facility was scheduled to open in 2017.

“We did… not a groundbreaking, but we did an announcement,” Leitao said. “The point is, after that, we had to go into, really, to the details and try to find an agreement, honestly. The fact that Osceola came with something that looked much better for us as a club and something that – at this stage – makes us move faster, we decided to move in that direction.

“We still have a great relationship with Lake Nona, with the guys from Tavistock, we really appreciate all the effort they did in order to make that happen. But, at the end of the day, it’s really about doing what’s the right thing for the club and for the organization.”

He added, “There’s a couple of differences between the projects, at the end of the day we thought that going to Osceola right now would make more sense.”

Tavistock officials said they remain supporters of Orlando City.

“We understand Orlando City’s financial decision of where to locate their training center,” senior director for Tavistock Development Company Jessi Blakley said in a statement. “We are great friends and neighbors and look forward to always being strong supporters of the team and their role in our community.”

Orlando City currently trains at Sylvan Lake Park, which the club does not own, in Sanford. The Pride will also eventually move to Osceola Heritage Park, which is the former spring training complex for Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros. 

The facility is set to open in July, though whether the first team will immediately move will be up to club executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi, his team and the players, Leitão said. Orlando City has six matches scheduled for July. Three of those matches are on the road. 

“Unfortunately, we were unable to give that facility at the beginning of the season, but I prefer to start earlier than later, then let them make the decision how much [of a] distraction it will be to move everybody,” Leitão said. “In the middle of the season, they will make the decision about that.”

Whether the team immediately moves isn’t a question that dampening Leitão’s excitement. 

“Everything that we always wanted to do, now we will be able to do it,” Leitão said. “I’m really passionate about this project.”

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