Will Johnson has spent a long time playing in MLS, and he’s had the opportunity to watch Orlando City develop from afar. He notes that the team has always been impressive, from the very first game that drew over 60,000 people into Camping World Stadium. But, Johnson said, he never looked forward to playing here.
“The one negative with Orlando when you came to play here was that it was on turf and in a football stadium,” Johnson said. “I’m a soccer purist, and so for me that was always the negative. You didn’t necessarily look forward to coming to play here because I believe that soccer is best played on grass, and now we have a beautiful, brand-new stadium with beautiful grass.”
Johnson said that the soccer-specific stadium, and the grass field, will drastically alter team’s attitudes towards playing in this city. “Teams now who want to come to Orlando are gonna have a hard time playing here, but they’re gonna like the trip,” Johnson said. “They’re gonna look forward it. I think this is gonna be a trip that, when people see the new stadium, that they circle on their calendar and say ‘Looking forward to that one.’”
This isn’t Johnson’s first time opening a new stadium. He played with Real Salt Lake (under Head Coach Jason Kreis) when they opened Rio Tinto Stadium in 2008. For him, the two experiences draw many obvious parallels.
“Moving from turf to grass, first and foremost, moving from a football stadium to a soccer stadium; that for me is a big deal. And going into a place that you call home,” Johnson said. “Maybe the guys in Orlando thought that Camping World Stadium was home, but I bet if you asked most of them, they thought ‘Eh, it didn’t feel quite right.’ And so when we go in, we’re gonna make this our home, we’re gonna treat it like our home, we’ll invite 20,000 of our friends every week and make it really hard for people to come in there. I think you’ll start to see a sense of pride from the players and from the staff that probably wasn’t there with Camping World Stadium because it wasn’t their stadium.”
As for describing the stadium itself, Johnson said that he didn’t want to waste anybody’s time trying to put it into words. “It talks for itself,” Johnson said. “It’s stunning.”