Adrian Heath poised to make Orlando City’s last season at Citrus Bowl a special one

StadiumPhoto-Citrus-Bowl

(Courtesy of Orlando City SC Communications)

CITRUS BOWL — There isn’t any doubt that Orlando City’s time at the Orlando Citrus Bowl has been historic.

The team is set to move to its soccer-specific stadium in 2017, and while the clock is ticking to next year’s move, Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath is reminded of the club’s beginning at the Citrus Bowl and gracious for the remaining time that’s left.

“A lot of good memories in this stadium. We had the birth of our club at this stadium,” Heath told the Orlando Soccer Journal.

“Going from USL and winning championships here, to that opening-day game in front of 62,000, it’s a big year ahead of us, but whenever we leave the stadium, I’ll always have fond memories of this stadium. A lot of good things have happened to our club in this stadium.”

Orlando City SC’s first game played at the Citrus Bowl came during the USL era on April 9, 2011. The Lions secured a 3-0 win over FC New York in front of an announced crowd of 7,933. Maxwell Griffin, now retired, scored the club’s first goal in that historic moment.

But even looking from the visiting side, Heath believes the stadium has had an impact on them too.

“I don’t think the [Citrus Bowl] has enough respect because I think it’s like a little amphitheater,” he added. “It’s a great stadium to play in. [The opposition] think the atmosphere in here is special. It’ll be sad for me.

“We need our own home, we know that, but this has been a good home for us. We got a lot of good memories.”

The club rapidly kept growing during its USL days with its eyes on the prize; that is, playing in Major League Soccer one day. From the Dom Dwyer saga that helped spearhead the team’s popularity stock in American soccer, Orlando City SC finally made it to the promise land on Nov. 19, 2013.

But the hard work was not over yet; at least not at the Citrus Bowl during Orlando City’s inaugural season last year in MLS.

The Lions started life in MLS on March 8 in front of 62,510 fans at the Citrus Bowl. And despite signing Brazilian star Ricardo Kaká before the start of the 2015 season, the Lions missed the playoffs for the first time in their history.

“We have a lot going on this season. We want to make the playoffs,” Heath said. “I felt really disappointed when we didn’t make it. It would be nice to play some playoff games in this stadium. If we make the playoffs, I think we’ll get ridiculous crowds here and generate some sort of special atmosphere.”

2013 USL final to inaugural MLS game

The Citrus Bowl will forever be part of Orlando City’s history.

And although the club has only been in existence since 2010, a collection of memories have been made during these past six years.

Flashback to Sept. 7, 2013, when Dwyer returned to Orlando after previously being called back to parent-club Sporting Kansas City.

It was the 2013 USL Pro Championship, and the  striker could have not helped write a more exciting ending to an already wild season.

Dwyer went on to score four goals as the Lions roared to a 7-4 victory against the Charlotte Eagles in front of 20,886 at the Citrus Bowl.

“That was a culmination of a really good team — the USL one,” Heath said. “But as I’ve said in numerous occasions, it’s going to take something special for me, having been with this organization since the day we started, going back to Austin. For us to have had that 62,000 was something I’ll never forget and something that will be etched on my memory for the rest of my life.”

Orlando City SC will host Real Salt Lake on March 6 at 2 p.m., and the club is aiming to #FillTheBowlAgain.

Follow Mike Gramajo on Twitter (@byMikeGramajo). For more, follow the OSJ on Twitter (@OSJSoccer).

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