This is our chance, Orlando.
Maybe our best chance.
Maybe our last chance for who knows how long.
Let’s be honest, Orlando, we’ve never won a championship — a real, legitimate, bona fide championship — in any sport of any significance. Oh sure, the old Orlando Predators won some Arena Football League championships. The Orlando Solar Bears and Orlando Seals won some minor league hockey titles. Orlando City itself, before it was granted an MLS franchise, won a championship while competing in the lower-level United Soccer League. Not that these championships aren’t meaningful to the teams that won them, but they aren’t “major league.”
As for UCF’s self-proclaimed college football national championship after the undefeated 2017 season, while it is officially recognized in the NCAA record book, it’s not really taken seriously by anybody outside of Knight Nation. In fact, it’s become more of a national punchline than a national championship.
The Magic, of course, have reached the NBA Finals twice, but both times they were quickly eliminated. In 1995, they were swept in four games by the Houston Rockets, and in 2009 the Lakers disposed of them in five games.
So let me say this once again: We need a championship in our town — and we need one badly. Over the years, we have seen our neighbors in Tampa celebrate Super Bowls and hoist Stanley Cups. We have seen South Florida celebrate NBA championships, World Series titles and the most iconic NFL champions of all-time — the unbeaten 1972 Dolphins.
And what’s our answer to the ’72 Miami Dolphins — the 2019 Orlando Apollos finishing with the best record in the Alliance of American Football before the bankrupt league went belly-up midway through its inaugural season?
Orlando City, can you hear me?
Can you feel our pain?
“Our heart is strong and we know what [a championship] would mean for the city,” Lions coach Oscar Pareja says. “It’s a great responsibility, but it would bring great joy and would be the best way for us to express our gratitude for the support of the fans and the community.”
I’ve said and written many times, there are two things that bring a city together like nothing else — tragedy and a championship sports team. Orlando City certainly helped begin the healing process after this community’s most horrific tragedy — the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in the summer of 2016. A week after 49 people were shot and killed, nearly 40,000 Orlandoans packed into Camping World Stadium to rally around their team and to rally against the horror of hate.
Nobody had to perform the national anthem that night because the fans stood up and sang it themselves — loudly and proudly. And they kept singing along when the teams took the field to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” And before the game started, they gave first responders a standing ovation and sang along again to U2’s “In The Name of Love.”
As former Orlando city coach Adrian Heath said at the time with his voice cracking, “The people in this city have never let us down when we’ve needed them, and maybe they need us a little bit right now.”
There is nothing so galvanizing and unifying as the power of sport, and here’s hoping Orlando City can bring us together again — this time under much happier circumstances. Multiple studies have been done showing that winning a championship can lead to a sense of happiness and well-being among fans; more social interaction and a more positive mood within the community; and there is some evidence that the crime rate even goes down temporarily.
Kay Rawlins, one of the co-founders of Orlando City and a vice president in the organization, says championship fever is what she envisioned when she helped bring the franchise here 13 years ago. And what is championship fever?
“People are talking, the city’s buzzing and everybody’s got a spring in their step,” Rawlins says. “Sports is not the be-all, end-all, however, we all know the extra lift it gives your life when your team is doing well. If we could bring a championship here, I just think it would be amazing.”
And, quite frankly, Orlando City might just be the best team in MLS right now. Even though they are the second seed in the East, nobody is playing better than the Lions heading into the playoffs. After winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy in 2022, they’ve built on it by setting club records for victories, points, road wins and goal differential. They have been MLS’ best team since June 1, sporting a 13-3-4 record over their final 20 games of the regular season.
What’s all this mean?
It means this is our chance, Orlando.
This is our best chance.
We want a championship.
A championship that counts.
A championship that proves we have the best team in America’s best league.
We want that MLS Cup.
We need that MLS Cup.
Bring it home, boys.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen