On Tuesday morning, members of Orlando City SC returned home from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil after playing at the iconic Maracanã stadium against Serie A giants, Flamengo.
It was a long journey for the Lions, traveling over eight thousand miles in total. For the fans who streamed the match online, plus those who attended, it was an opportunity to watch the Lions face off in an international friendly of true quality in the one of the most famous football stadiums in world history.
"The club should be proud that we are the first club from America to come and play at the Maracanã," said Lions Head Coach Adrian Heath. "When I grew up this was a special place, and it still is. I'm pleased for the players; they enjoyed it. I'm also pleased that we gave a good impression of Orlando City.”
This match came as a tremendous opportunity for the Lions. Many players dream of having the opportunity just to visit one of the great world cathedrals of football, let alone play in it. Lions forward, Pedro Ribeiro fully embraced this tremendous opportunity.
"Since we were told about this trip, the whole team has been really excited,” expressed the Brazilian. "Most of the guys have never been to Brazil or played in the Maracanã. I feel like this is any soccer players dream to come and play here. We can't take anything like this for granted. It is very important and very humbling to play on such a stage."
Orlando City gained plenty of experience in their 1-0 defeat against Flamengo, showing strong play throughout the ninety minutes. The Lions had great chances throughout the match, and played at a very high level. "I was pleased with how we played," expressed Heath.
“Some of these guys haven't played in three or four weeks since the season ended. I thought we put a good performance in, so i'm actually disappointed we didn't get a draw out of the game. Before the game we probably would have settled for the scoreline, but after playing the game I thought we could have gotten a draw or even won the game. There were some pleasing aspects; some of the younger guys have done well again, and overall it has been a great trip.”
OCSC's trip to Brazil brought a great opportunity to further their experience playing on the international stage. However, when a soccer team like Orlando City travels to a country where the entire nation lives and breaths the game, it provides great opportunities off the pitch as well.
On the final day of Orlando City's trip to Brazil, the Lions traveled to Olympic Village in Vidigal to visit and donate new soccer balls to students. This was an exciting moment for the players, as they were greeted by the young Brazilians with a big round of applause.
Being able to witness a community admire soccer to the extent that these children and families do brought great pleasure to the players and coaching staff.
"It's a strange feeling because it is a once in a lifetime thing,” stated Coach Heath. "If you are from Europe you never have this opportunity to come and do something like this. You have heard about, you have read about it, and you have seen it on TV...It doesn't surprise me because the people here have been fantastic."
Overall, the trip to Brazil ended up being a huge success for the club. Not only were they able to impress one of the most storied clubs in South America, but they also had a chance to give back to the community which was touching for both the organization and the children of Vidigal.
After returning, the Lions will continue their offseason break from MLS until training camp reconvenes in January.