Sunday evening Orlando City SC wrapped up its first Major League Soccer season in Philadelphia. While the team didn’t achieve its goal of reaching the postseason, the players and their fans set many MLS expansion records during their inaugural run.
In 2009 the Seattle Sounders began a new type of expansion in MLS where teams with existing fan bases would be brought into the league. The inaugural team in that expansion style was proven to be a huge success. Seattle would set a new expansion era (beginning in 2005) record for wins by an expansion team, points by an expansion team, and average attendance by an expansion team. All three of these records stood until 2015 when Orlando City came into the league.
The Sounders brought the league a type of support base unseen in American soccer. During their inaugural season, they averaged 30,943 fans in their 15 home games. The Sounders became the first MLS expansion team to lead the league in attendance since the league’s inaugural year of 1996 when the Los Angeles Galaxy averaged 28,916 in the Rose Bowl.
While Orlando City didn’t lead the league in attendance in 2015, they set a new record for average attendance at 32,847. That’s the seventh highest average attendance in MLS history with the other six belonging to Seattle who has steadily increased their attendance from 2010-2015.
For the team’s inaugural game on March 8, Orlando City filled the Citrus Bowl drawing 62,510. That became the tenth highest attended MLS game in the league’s 20 year history. That number was also the highest of any expansion team in the MLS expansion era. Only twice before had a team managed to have a higher attendance during their inaugural season. That was the Los Angeles Galaxy who did so twice during the 1996 season.
On the field Orlando City was making history too. Boosted by an amazing end of the season run winning five of their last six games, the Lions won 12 games during the 2015 season which tied Seattle and Montreal for the most by an expansion team during the expansion era. That number is second for an expansion team in MLS history after the Chicago Fire won 18 games in 1998. They finished the season with 44 points which is third all-time by an expansion team to Seattle’s 47 in 2009 and Chicago’s 56 in 1998.
The most publicized record set this season was by rookie striker Cyle Larin. The first pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft out of UConn, the 20-year-old forced his way into Adrian Heath’s starting lineup by a stretch of scoring four goals in five games early in the season. He would end up scoring two hat tricks (July 26 at NYCFC, September 25 at New York Red Bulls) becoming the eighth player to score a hat trick in their rookie season and the first rookie to score a pair of hat tricks in his rookie year.
His second hat trick came on September 25 at Red Bull Arena where his first goal in that game set the league’s all-time rookie goal scoring record at 12. The record had previously been held by Jamaican Damani Ralph who scored 11 goals in 2003 with the Chicago Fire.
Scoring a hat trick isn’t just a rare occurrence for a rookie in MLS. Larin’s hat trick at Yankee Stadium in July made him just the third player to score a hat trick for an expansion team. The previous two had come in 1998 by Miami Fusion’s Diego Serna and in 2010 by Philadelphia Union’s Sebastien Le Toux.
Despite narrowly missing out on the playoffs, it was an incredible inaugural season for Orlando City. While many questioned the city’s ability to support an MLS team, the fans showed up in big numbers impressing even the club’s ownership. On the field the team fought to the end setting multiple MLS records on the way and coming close to some others. It was a season that will only breed excitement going forward.