On Friday morning, January 23rd, an historic event occurred for the city of Orlando. On that pleasant, sunny day, the city’s second major professional sports franchise took the field for the first time ever. This was not just a practice, it was a momentous occasion.
It was a day just like every other freakishly warm winter day in Central Florida. A brisk breeze pushed sparse billowy clouds across a bright blue sky. People jammed Interstate 4 going to work, going to school, going to theme parks. But though it was like one of those days, it was more than that. Unlike the average day in Orlando, on this day at 9:58 AM, Kaká, one of the greatest men to ever play the game of soccer laced up his Adidas cleats and casually walked over to a practice field to represent those poor souls trapped on I-4. He was joined by players from around the world, places like England, Ireland, Columbia, Honduras, Trindidad, El Salvador, France, Jamaica, Portugal and of course, the United States of America.
This was not simply a gathering of professionals in the world’s game. This was a team that has come to symbolize the best qualities of the city that it represents. It’s a young team, an internationally diverse team. This is a team with a desire to achieve and succeed through hard work and raw talent. This side is a mirror of the region that it stands for and an example of the American dream if ever there was one.
Hyperbole you say? A tad over the top? Consider this, seven years ago, two Englishmen sat in a pub and talked about coming to America to build a new life. Though successful in his field, one had not been given a proper chance at his vision for management of a team, the other with a sharp eye for business recognized an environment with plenty of demand and not enough supply. With a 4-2-3-1 and a nose for business, they built Friday morning with nothing but their bare hands and what wits they had about them.
On the quest to realize this vision, they eventually found thousands of fellow travellers in Orlando. Like those Englishmen, this city had been overlooked by professionals in other major sports. That the city had supported the National Basketball Association was of no consequence to Major League Baseball or the National Football League. To those leagues, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville were better markets. The citizens of the City Beautiful were slighted time and again. This was nothing but Disney World, they said. Orlando is made up of nothing but a bunch of people from other places. Well, that’s kind of like America.
Like those two Brits, the people of Orlando are passionate and knowledgeable about the game of soccer. They have followed teams from around the world from afar. Now they have a team of their own to support and support it they will. On Friday morning, they saw them for the first time, and like Rick once said to Captain Renault, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.