I was fortunate enough to attend Sunday's home opener (shoutout my brother) and there is something truly special about watching a game at Exploria Stadium. This was the best attended Orlando City game since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and even though it wasn't a sellout, it had the atmosphere of a big game.
The Wall was in midseason form, with supporters filling the entire free-standing section of the stadium, while the rest of the stadium filled up well -- sans the sun-exposed corners, which, yeah I get.
The experience of watching an Orlando City game in person is two-fold. One, you get to see professional soccer in person. A lot of people will talk about how MLS isn't a high level of soccer, and whatever. I get that the Premier League is a "higher" level of play, but watching Major League Soccer in person is a sight to behold. There's a sense of speed and intensity to the game that can't be captured on camera. That alone is reason to get to a game.
But then there's reason number two: the fan atmosphere is still elite.
The passion and support from supporters at a soccer match is a unique and special experience. And if you're a fan of the home team, there's also a feeling of community with this group of strangers. Orlando City fans are also a unique group within MLS. Other fanbases, correct me if I'm wrong, but Orlando feels meaner than almost any other fanbase in MLS.
I mean that as a compliment.
It toes the line of going too far at times, with Sunday seeing two official warnings against "abusive" fan behavior, almost certainly in reference to a prominent YSA (You suck *expletive*) chant echoing after every Montreal goal kick. Maybe Orlando supporters could tone down the harsh language or smack talking towards opponents, but for me, I genuinely love that Exploria Stadium can be a legitimately hostile venue for the opposition.
Sunday was a special moment for me, and getting to watch Orlando City live and in person is a special moment. If you're ever able to attend these games, you have to take advantage of that. MLS is a special community, and inside that stadium you can feel that.
I know I'll be back, as often as my schedule and wallet let me. It's too good of an experience to turn down.