Remember when our local elected officials insisted Orlando had to build a soccer-specific stadium in order to become a new Major League Soccer city? Remember as Mayors Buddy Dyer and Teresa Jacobs held hands proclaiming their support in giving millions in public dollars to build a stadium just for the soccer team and insisting it was the only option in a fast track process. The City and County Commissioners “had to do it,” otherwise there was simply no way for our Orlando City Lions to play in the MLS. Dyer and Jacobs insisted that the new fully renovated Citrus Bowl would be unacceptable because it was not “soccer-specific” as the MLS was demanding for any new teams.
Lies. More lies.
You see, Major League Soccer just awarded Atlanta its 22nd team franchise, welcoming what will be the third expansion team including Orlando and Miami, which has the David Beckham guarantee. But here’s the biggest kicker of the announcement: the Atlanta MLS team will play in the new Georgia Dome stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons NFL team. That $1.2 billion stadium will have a capacity of 65,000 with the potential of 75,000 with extra seating and a retractable roof when construction is done.
Ironically, here in Orlando, the new Citrus Bowl will be able to seat 65,000 with extra seating after its renovations are complete. The Orlando City Lions were playing at the Citrus Bowl but claimed there was not one single way to make it acceptable to the MLS and local elected officials never questioned it. Clearly it doesn’t seem to be the case for the Atlanta team (the Seattle MLS team also plays at an NFL stadium, 67,000-seat CenturyLink Field).
In Atlanta, the MLS even admits for soccer games they will “cover the upper deck and give the venue a more intimate feel” – a notion completely rejected locally in Orlando. The capacity for MLS soccer games in Atlanta will be 29,322 even without using the upper deck, much higher than the projected capacity for Orlando’s soccer stadium. Not to mention the fact that the Citrus Bowl will sit unused more of the year.
So why the double-standard? Could it be because the MLS likes Atlanta more than Orlando?
MLS Commissioner Don Garber bragged Atlanta “will be an epicenter for soccer in the Southeast.” Not Orlando, huh? I guess the MLS was just trying to build up a new southeast division so Atlanta could shine as the “epicenter” of the region. When Garber announced the Orlando bid, all he said was: “We are proud and excited to welcome Orlando to Major League Soccer.”
The whole Orlando-MLS process has been riddled with lies and misrepresentations. Many of Mayor Jacobs’ misrepresentations were exposed during the brief County Commission discussion. The community also found out the soccer team was fabricating attendance numbers all season. And the Dyer negotiated the soccer stadium deal with the County before he owned all the land needed in Parramore, so now a local church faces eminent domain takeover for the MLS.
And because Dyer is currently behind schedule and doesn’t even have all the Parramore land yet, the MLS debut for Orlando will end up taking place in the Citrus Bowl anyway. Dyer even hinted the whole first season may need to be played at the Citrus Bowl, although team owners expect their new stadium as soon as possible in their opening MLS season.
The Atlanta MLS bid is just the latest proof that Orlando was duped by Major League Soccer, Buddy Dyer, Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City soccer team.