NEW YORK – Get ready Major League Soccer, because purple is the new black.
Buoyed by ambitious owners, three years of success at the minor-league level, and a fast-growing fanbase, Orlando City Soccer Club was named MLS's 21st franchise on Tuesday.
Orlando City – who are expected to don jerseys with their signature purple color scheme, a first in the league’s 18-year history – will make their MLS debut in 2015, the league's 20th season.
“We are proud and excited to welcome Orlando to Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement. “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. And thanks to the commitment of ownership, the City of Orlando and Orange County, Orlando City will soon have a spectacular new stadium that will provide fans and the entire community with a truly unique downtown sporting experience.”
Garber and principal club owners da Silva and Rawlins made the news official on Tuesday in front a sea of purple-clad fans in Orlando, a celebratory moment for a franchise with its eyes on MLS expansion since 2010. The club moved from Austin, Texas, three years ago with full knowledge that Orlando is one of the fastest growing markets in the US, with the nation’s fourth fastest-growing Latino market.
They backed up the promising off-field demographics with on-field success, earning the USL PRO regular-season title in 2011 and 2012 and surging to the league’s postseason crown in 2013.
Da Silva, a native of Brazil, leads Orlando City's ownership group, which includes club founder and managing partner Rawlins, chairman John Bonner and 10 local partners. Da Silva previously owned Wise Up, a group of more than 400 language schools operating in five countries, and currently owns Geração de Valor (Valuable Generation), a company dedicated to developing young entrepreneurs.
"Orlando is a special city with amazing fans that have embraced the beautiful game and we have no doubt that Orlando City will become the next success story in MLS,” da Silva said in a statement. “We would like to thank MLS leadership for working with us and helping us bring Major League Soccer to Central Florida.
"Our goal is to continue the championship-winning ways this organization has established and to further the special relationship that this club has with its fans and the city of Orlando.”
Originally from the United Kingdom and a part-owner of English Premier League club Stoke City, Rawlins founded and developed a highly successful information technology sales and marketing consulting company. He founded the Austin Aztex in 2007, before moving the team to Orlando in late 2010.
"It is a dream come true to bring Major League Soccer to Orlando," Rawlins said in a statement. “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 Major League Soccer, and we are thrilled to join what has become one of the fastest growing and most exciting leagues in the world.”
Rawlins has already added to the excitement with statements that the club will sign the "Brazilian Beckham" when it joins MLS. Many observers believe Rawlins is referring to Brazilian attacking midfielder Kaká, who is friends with da Silva and who visited the club earlier this year.
With 21 clubs in 2015, MLS said in a statement it will provide details "regarding conference alingment and schedule format for future MLS season" at a later date.
Orlando City will play the 2014 season at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Then, in 2015, the Lions will open their MLS era in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, before moving into a new 18,000-seat soccer stadium in downtown Orlando later that summer. Construction for the new stadium – which was approved last month by the Orange County Board of Commissioners – is slated to begin next spring.
Orlando City will join the league at the same time as the league’s 20th franchise, New York City FC, marking the fourth time the league has added two clubs in one year. In 1998, the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion joined. In 2005, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA came into the league. And the last time was in 2011, when the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps made the jump from the lower divisions up to MLS.