Thousands show up for Orlando City’s open practice at the Citrus Bowl

ORLANDO – The 2015 Major League Soccer season doesn’t open up for another month, but Orlando City fans were nearly in mid-season form, with thousands of showing up for an open practice held by the club at the newly renovated Citrus Bowl on Saturday night.

Featuring close to the full game-day experience, both supporter groups – Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm – tailgated outside of the stadium before marching into the stadium, parking themselves in the south side of the Bowl, where they sung, chanted, and did everything they could to make themselves known.

“It’s amazing to see.” Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said afterwards. “We’ve made a significant impact tonight, and it’s great to see. It’s a celebration, and the fans are enjoying it; they’re loving seeing their new team — their team — in their old home. There’s a lot of smiles on people’s faces, and that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”

The team opened up with some jogging to get their legs loose before moving into passing and finishing drills on-goal. This was the team’s first chance to practice on the Citrus Bowl turf.

Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath, who was mic’d for most of the practice, still in the middle of the field with a ball tucked under his arm, and could be heard throughout the stadium yelling at his players — a normal sight at an Orlando City practice, but with a little less swearing.

“It was a little bit different. Being mic’d you have to be a little bit mindful of the kids,” Heath said. “I was a little bit quieter than I usually am and a little bit more reserved.”

For many Orlando City fans, this was their first chance to get back into their old home, where the Lions had spent their first three USL PRO seasons before using Disney as a temporary home last season. The Citrus Bowl, which recently finished undergoing a $220 million renovation, will play host to the Lions for the entire 2015 season.

After spending about half an hour walking about the place, myself, I got the feeling that fans are going to love spending their time there this season.

“I think it’s a fabulous venue; I think it’s going to be a great home for us this year.” Heath said. “Obviously. if we can get this place full it’s going to be rocking when we get here on March 8.”

Some other notes from the training pitch…..

** Orlando City general manager Paul McDonough told me that the club has brought in Ireland defender Sean St. Ledger on trial. He joined the team late this week, training with the squad on both Friday and during Saturday’s open training.

Ledger, a 30-year-old defender that can play both central and outside back, recently finished up a trail stint with DC United before he was picked up by Orlando City. He most recently played for Ipswich Town and Leicester City in the English Championship.

McDonough added that Orlando is also expected to pick up another trailist in the coming days.

** Orlando City winger Carlos Rivas was out again tonight as he continues to nurse a shoulder injury. Heath said Rivas hurt the shoulder last week during training when he fell hard in practice, leaving him out of play for 7-10 days. The club is hoping he’ll be able to return to action some time this week.

“We’re hoping by the middle of next week he should be doing a little bit more. … He’s getting better by the day; he’s a lot, lot better today than he was two days ago.

** Designated Player Bryan Rochez joined the team on the first for the first time Saturday night. Rochez had spent the first week of camp away at the U-20 CONCACAF Championship with Honduras before finally getting into Orlando this past week.

“He met the guys this morning, so it was nice to get him in the building as well.” Heath said.

** Defender Aurelien Collin did not participate in practice on Saturday, spending the last two days on the sidelines nursing a slight muscle injury. The club is hoping to get him some more rest over the next couple of days, and he will not play in Sunday’s friendly against Toronto FC.

** After practice ended, all season ticket holders in attendance had the opportunity to get autographs from players on the field. Most players participated, but none signed more than Kaka, who didn’t leave the pitch until signing for almost every single fan out there. He probably spent more than an hour and a half signing autographs.

That’s a true class act.