Major League Soccer has officially returned to Florida, with the announcement that Orlando City SC has been added as the league's 21st team.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, OCSC majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva, and OCSC President Phil Rawlins made the announcement Tuesday evening at Cheyenne Saloon, the same venue where over 20 years ago Orlando was named as a host city for the 1994 World Cup. The event was also attended by numerous local politicians including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
"We are proud and excited to welcome Orlando to Major League Soccer," Commissioner Garber said in a press release. "From the success of the Orlando City Soccer Club, to the incredible fan support and passion in the community, this is a new market that really excites us. We have great confidence in Flávio Augusto da Silva, Phil Rawlins and the rest of the Orlando City ownership group. They love this sport, our league and this city."
The team also confirmed that it will begin play in 2015, alongside another MLS expansion team, New York City FC.
"It is a dream come true to bring MLS to Orlando," said Rawlins. "The fans in Orlando have clearly demonstrated that they are ready for MLS, and we look forward to celebrating with them and working together to set a new standard in this country. We have watched the evolution of MLS, and we are thrilled to join what has become one of the fastest growing and most exciting leagues in the world."
The move means that MLS has a presence in Florida for the first time since the end of the 2001 season, when the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny were both contracted.
But OCSC has been priming the market for the last several years in anticipation of joining MLS. Orlando City has been competing in USL PRO, the third tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid. In that time the club has claimed two regular season titles as well as two postseason championships in the last three years, while drawing over 8,700 fans per game during the 2013 campaign. OCSC anticipates that this figure will increase now that the club has joined MLS. OCSC announced yesterday that Orlando Health would be the team's jersey sponsor.
Plans are also in the works to build a new downtown stadium. Over the last three months, OCSC secured funding from both the city of Orlando as well as Orange County that it will put toward construction. The club is hoping to break ground on the project in the spring of 2014.