Before this season, I had never gone to an Open Cup Game. The past two seasons had Orlando City playing their first match in far off suburbs, against amateur teams with over priced tickets and no beer allowed in the stadium. This year everything changed for the better. In the first round Orlando City U23's opened with a home game against VSI Tampa. The game didn't go the way we had hoped, but the smoke bombs, flares, and roman candles were a great way to start off the Open Cup for Orlando.
The next round had Orlando (not U23's) facing an amateur team from Ocala, Florida. They were dealt with as expected to bring on an MLS team. This was the first time an MLS team had played in the Citrus Bowl in a meaningful match. Colorado came to Orlando, with mostly back up players, and Orlando had their first meaningful win against an MLS team.
Next up was Sporting Kansas City in KC. With some of our best players being on loan from SKC, they weren't allowed to play. I had very low expectations for this game. After all, OCSC was knocked out by SKC last year. An early goal gave City all that was needed to advance. I immediately texted a friend in Chicago and one in Columbus to make sure I had a couch to crash on, no matter the result of the Chicago-Columbus match. Orlando in the quarter finals was not something I was going to miss.
Wednesday morning at 2:15am my roommate woke me up, so that he could give me a ride to the airport. It was less than 19 hours away from the Chicago Fire-Orlando City match. I finally got to Chicago at about 10 central. After (unsuccessfully) shopping for purple streamers, I made my way to a bar to catch a ride with the Section 8 bus. The bartenders were totally unaware of the game, much less if the bus was running that night, but did everything they could to make me feel comfortable. I ended up watching the Brazil-Uruguay Confederations Cup game with a Brazilian that has been following OCSC because of our new owner, Flavio Augusto da Silva.
Still unsure if the bus was running that day, I found a business card from someone at the Fire FO. He was incredibly helpful and eventually found out that I was in the right place. An hour later the Fire fans began to show up.
Section 8 sounded amazing the entire game. I was sitting behind the opposite goal and couldn’t help from waking up the next day with their songs stuck in my head. They all worked as one voice to fill Toyota Park with their songs, and they even had the sideline-sitters clapping along. My favorite part about the group was the bus ride and tailgate. On the bus we talked about all sorts of sports. One guy even sent his regards to the Solar Bears, Orlando's minor league hockey team - and he was even the one that brought up the team! One of the guys from the bus even gave my friend and me a ride to Logan Square after so we wouldn't have to put more money on our train passes.
As much as I loved the Fire fans, meeting City fans that I’ve never met before was fantastic. It started on the bus, when a Rollins College grad came up to me with a City scarf wrapped around her neck. I thought that was going to be it for Orlando fans, but it wasn’t! At the tailgate I caught a speck of purple out of the corner of my eye and got a response to my Orlando chants.
The game itself was an absolute blast. I think Orlando played great, and was convinced we had the win until the second red card. The only thing Chicago did better than OCSC was capitalize on chances. Sean Johnson was phenomenal. As a fellow UCF alum, it's great to seem him doing so well.
Obviously, the 5-1 loss was disappointing, but I’m so glad to have experienced being with our team in Chicago. The only negative thing I experienced was overhearing a member of the Fire staff tell the ball boy to take as much time as possible, once Chicago was up 2-1. I’d like to thank the Chicago Fire staff, and the fans of the Fire. This game was my fourth away trip, to see City, and easily the best. My Section 8 scarf is currently hanging on my wall.
I can't wait for City to join the MLS so I have an excuse to make this trip again. Everything about it was wonderful. I partied on roof tops, walked to a bar with graffiti artist that tagged everything along the way, and ate the best pizza I've ever had. Hell, I even got sunburned, saw a gator (in a zoo), and went to the beach. With Chicago's semifinal match coming up, I wish the Fire the best of luck. After my trip, you have a new fan in Orlando.