Orlando team counts on global visitors to spark interest

Wed Nov 20, 2013 7:25pm EST
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A new Major League Soccer franchise in Orlando is banking on the droves of international visitors to this theme park capital to help the team succeed where other teams failed in Florida little more than a decade ago.

"This truly is a melting pot," said Orlando City Soccer Club president and owner Phil Rawlins on a media conference call on Wednesday.

The U.S. appetite for soccer also has changed markedly since 2002 when teams in Miami and Tampa were closed to cut the fledgling league's losses, Rawlins said.

"The tide is really rising for soccer across the U.S. We tapped into a great marketplace. The city itself is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It has a very young age. Soccer's cool. Soccer's hip."

The Orlando team will be one of four expansion sides planned by Major League Soccer through 2020.

One new franchise has already been approved for New York, a partnership between the owners of the New York Yankees baseball team and the owners of the British Premier League club Manchester City.

Earlier this month, British soccer icon David Beckham, who played for Manchester United, Real Madrid and the MLS club L.A. Galaxy, toured potential stadium sites in Miami for the second time in five months as he moved ahead with his plans to bring a MLS franchise to the city.

Rawlins compared Orlando's chances of success with the similar sized MLS communities of Portland and Kansas City, whose teams fared well.   Continued...

Orlando City SC president Phil Rawlins waves to his wife during a rally for a Major League Soccer official announcement for a expansion franchise agreement with Orlando City Soccer at Cheyenne Saloon. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports