Over the course of five days, Orlando City will have faced two of the teams they one day hope to equal, and eventually overtake.
Since the early days of MLS, two teams have reigned supreme. D.C. United and the L.A. Galaxy have dominated the young league since its inception in 1996. With four and five MLS Cups respectively, they are the standard bearers of the league.
One of the original 10 MLS teams, D.C. United was the league’s first dynasty. Coached by Bruce Arena, United won three of the first four MLS Cups. Buoyed by stars John Harkes, Marco Etcheverry, and Jaime Moreno, the club won four trophies in the first four seasons and appeared in six finals in that timespan.
While United’s early success decreased as Arena departed to coach the U.S. national team following the 1998 season, the black and red continued to collect silverware. The team collected their fourth MLS Cup trophy in 2004 and won the Lamar Hunt U.S. open Cup in 2008 and 2013. Currently with four MLS Cups, three U.S. Open Cups, and four Supporters Shields, United are the second most successful team in MLS history.
Their success is only surpassed by the L.A. Galaxy – the most successful team in MLS history. The Galaxy finished runners-up in MLS three times before winning their first league title in 2002. Prior to 2008, the west coasters had two MLS Cups, two U.S. Open Cups, and two Supporters Shields. But L.A.’s biggest achievements came after the club brought in former D.C. United manager Bruce Arena.
With former U.S. international Landon Donovan and former England captain David Beckham on board, the Galaxy would go on to win three MLS Cups and two Supporters Shields. The Galaxy have now won three of the last four MLS Cups. But how can a young club like Orlando City SC attain these heights?
There’s little question about Orlando City’s ambition. During their four years in USL Pro, the country’s third division, the Lions captured five trophies (two USL Pro Championships and three Season Championships). The Club’s willingness to secure top talent and dedication to youth development proved that ownership would do what it needed to be successful.
That commitment to excellence extended to the club’s inaugural MLS season this year when they immediately traded for three-time MLS All-Star defender Aurélien Collin and two-time MLS All-Star goalkeeper Tally Hall. These trades were in addition to the signing of 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká. The dedication to on-field excellence was clear.
That philosophy also includes the club’s academy. A big part of both D.C. and L.A.’s current success are homegrown players. D.C.’s starting goalkeeper, Bill Hamid, spent 2007-2009 in United’s youth development academy before making his senior team debut in 2009. To date the 24-year-old has made 120 senior team appearances and twice been capped for the U.S. national team.
With the retirements of Donovan and Beckham, L.A. has also began depending on some homegrown talent, most notably Gyasi Zardes. The 23-year-old striker spent 2008 and 2009 in the Galaxy academy before making his senior team debut in 2013. To date Zardes has scored 21 goals in 66 appearances for the Galaxy and made five appearances this year for the U.S. national team.
Orlando City has worked tirelessly to build a strong academy which has already garnered praise. With several academy members representing the United States at the youth international level, it’s only a matter of time before the Lions lineup is littered with local academy products born and bred in Central Florida. The Club also continues to strengthen its front office with the recent addition of former USL President Tim Holt. Tim brings his years of experience in the league to Orlando City, overseeing various initiatives designed to further grow the brand.
With big signings, strong staff and commitment to the development academy, Orlando City is working to become the third dynasty in MLS history.
This week Orlando City is playing the two most successful teams in MLS history. While the Lions are now equals – playing at the same level on the field as these two opponents – these two teams shine as an example of what the Club aims to become. As an expansion club, Orlando City on their way toward that goal. And on Sunday night, in front of an expected crowd of over 40,000, the Lions will look to take another step toward achieving their goal.