One of the worst-kept secrets in the history of sports is now official: Orlando City will become the 21st MLS franchise and begin play in 2015. The announcement, which had been only very thinly disguised for about a week, was made on Tuesday in downtown Orlando.
Orlando's entry into MLS marks the league's return to Florida for the first time since the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were contracted following the 2001 season. In the meantime, MLS has grown tremendously, with Orlando City being the 11th expansion team to join the league since that season. They could soon by joined by two more teams in the South, as David Beckham appears close to finalizing a deal to bring a team to Miami and Falcons owner Arthur Blank seems keen on bringing a team to Atlanta.
Few teams will have joined MLS with more working in their favor. The biggest item is that Orlando City has already established itself as one of the top drawing lower-division clubs in North America, peaking at an average of 8,167 during the 2013 regular season and averaging 12,761 during a playoff run that culminated in a USL-Pro championship. Orlando City will give MLS five teams that got their start in the lower-divisions, joining the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact in that regard. All three teams saw significant attendance boosts upon gaining promotion.
They also already have a jersey sponsor secured, as Orlando Health has signed on to continued their support into the MLS era and funding in place for a new downtown, soccer-specific stadium.
With New York City FC already slated to begin play in 2015 and Atlanta and Miami expected to be awarded franchises in the near future, that leaves one more spot for MLS to fill in order to reach their goal of having 24 teams by 2020. At this rate, though, that quota could be filled long before then.