Orlando City Coach Adrian Heath Previews 2012 Season

Filed under: Orlando City Soccer,Orlando Sport |

Orlando City Lions coach Adrian Heath (pictured above) sat down with me this morning to talk about the upcoming 2012 season for the Lions. There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time for soccer in the Orlando area as the team looks forward to defending their 2011 USL Pro Championship title.

The club has come along way in a short time and this time last year everyone at the club was just settling into the area after the move from Austin, Texas.  Orlando City was originally named Orlando Pro Soccer when it was announced on March 4, 2010, and it was initially affiliated with the Orlando Titans National Lacrossse League team. Unfortunately the Titans ran into financial difficulties and  in October 2010, the Orlando Pro Soccer USL rights were purchased by Phil Rawlins, a board member of English Premier League team Stoke City.  It was his decision to move the club from Austin to Orlando and the team was then officially announced on October 25, 2010. At the press conference, Rawlins stated that he intended to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Orlando “within 3–5 years” as well as bringing international matches to the city as well. So far he’s half way to his target and it’s been an impressive start.

None of this would have been possible though if it wasn’t for the involvement of Coach Heath who has brought a style of play to the team that has many admirers throughout US soccer. The team ran away with the regular season championship and swept to the Championship final where it found a tough opponent in Harrisburg City Islanders, eventually winning on penalties after a thrilling last period of the game that saw the teams matched at 2-2.

The bar has certainly been set high by Heath and his squad. It remains to be seen if they can conjure up a repeat performance with which to impress MLS Commissioner Don Garber and perhaps seal that elusive MLS place but you can be sure that maximum effort will be exerted to achieve the goals.

The season kicks off with a friendly match against Philadelphia Union on February 18th at 6pm at the Florida Citrus Bowl and then a week later the team is involved in the 2012 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. The Disney event runs from 24th February through to 3rd March and will feature six MLS teams (Toronto, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps) and Swedish Allsvenskan side BK Hacken. This action-packed event will be located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World and the eight teams will compete in 14 games across the 7 days. It promises to be a soccer feast and the full schedule is featured below:

Session 1
6 p.m. Sporting KC vs Houston Dynamo Buy Tickets
8 p.m. Montreal Impact vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Session 2
6 p.m. Orlando City Soccer vs Toronto FC Buy Tickets
8 p.m. B.K. Hacken vs FC Dallas
Session 3
1 p.m. Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Houston Dynamo Buy Tickets
3 p.m. Sporting KC vs Montreal Impact
Session 4
6 p.m. Toronto FC vs B.K. Hacken Buy Tickets
8 p.m. Orlando City Soccer vs FC Dallas
Session 5
6 p.m. Sporting KC vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC Buy Tickets
8 p.m. Houston Dynamo vs Montreal Impact
Session 6
6 p.m. Toronto FC vs FC Dallas Buy Tickets
8 p.m. Orlando City Soccer vs B.K. Hacken
Championship Session
6 p.m. Consolation Game: TBD vs TBD Buy Tickets
8 p.m. Championship Game: TBD vs TBD

After that, the Lions will be looking forward to the start of the 24 game USL PRO regular season that kicks off in Charlotte on April 7th. A week later sees the home opener on April 15 at 6 p.m. against the Wilmington Hammerheads at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The 2012 schedule sees Orlando City enjoy two visits from close rivals Charleston Battery on June 9 and July 28. In 2011, the Lions and Battery faced off five times in 2011 with Orlando winning the series 4-1 including a 3-1 overtime victory in the first round of the playoffs. In total, Orlando and Charleston will face off three times in the regular season, twice in Orlando and once in Charleston.

The USL PRO Championship Game rematch between Orlando City and Harrisburg City Islanders will be eagerly anticipated and it will take place in Orlando on June 22 ahead of the late season clash on August 1 in Harrisburg.

One interesting game sees City pitched against new opponents as they will face the Los Angeles Blues on May 24 in Orlando. The Lions will then face the Blues twice in LA in a Friday/Sunday series on July 6 and 8. The Blues were the only USL PRO side Orlando did not face in 2011 although LA qualified for the playoffs last season, but were eliminated by Harrisburg.

The 2012 season sees one major change to the league format as just 11 teams return to USL PRO in 2012. FC New York is no longer a member of USL PRO so now the 11 teams will now be grouped into a single table, resulting in the elimination of the divisions.

The shift away from separate divisions also brings small changes to the playoff format as now the top 6 teams will qualify for the 2012 USL PRO Playoffs. The top two teams will then receive a bye in the first round, similar to the NFL format and all playoffs will be single-elimination matches with the higher seed hosting each game. The 2012 Championship Game is then set for the weekend of September 7-9.

During the close season, Heath has been busy tweaking his squad (roster) and he’s recruited English midfielders James O’Connor (above left) and Anthony Pullis (above right) as well as forward Matt Luzunaris (pictured below) from San Jose Earthquakes. O’Connor and Pullis were much needed recruits as Lawrence Olum and Yordany Alvarez have both departed for MLS teams Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake respectively.

Of the three new signings to date, perhaps the one who needs the least introduction is Matt Luzunaris. Luzunaris made quite an impression on supporters last season as he played for the Lions on several occasions on loan and he scored a couple of vital goals to help seal the regular season title. In doing so he provided more than enough evidence to warrant the Lions permanently signing the former UCF Knight.

O’Connor is a 14-year veteran of England’s Championship division, and the 32-year old Irishman joins the Lions on a free transfer after playing the last three and half seasons at Sheffield Wednesday. In addition to his vast experience he also brings a UEFA “A” coaching license and will be assisting Heath and Assistant Coach Ian Fuller with the teams coaching duties.

Pullis is the son of Stoke City manager Tony Pullis and has played with several Premier League and Championship sides including Portsmouth, Stoke City, and Southampton as well as appearances for the Wales Under 21 National Team.

Heath isn’t resting on his laurels yet though and he insisted that every position could use one more player before the pre-season kicks off. “One player in each position would be the best to fill out the club,” Heath said “and we’re working hard to fill our roster.”

So, it looks like it’s going to be another exciting season and not content with adding new players to the roster, the club has also unveiled a new kit at its first ever supporters evening tonight in Orlando. Hundreds of Orlando City fans packed Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill in Downtown Orlando and the centerpiece of the evening was the unveiling of the 2012 kits.  Here’s a look at the details of this year’s kit.

Purple is the new red. The 2012 Orlando City kit features one of the three primary colors of the Orlando City crest- purple. For the upcoming season, Orlando City will be wearing their all purple kit at each home match.

New features of the jersey include a white trim below the neckline and around the shoulders, making the purple even more evident for the 2012 Lions. The socks and shorts match the purple top with the same royal purple color. The socks have a break in the middle with a white bar emphasized with an Umbro logo.

Orlando Health will be entering their second year as the primary jersey sponsor of Orlando City Soccer. Their logo is predominantly placed on the chest of the jersey. The Umbro patch is located at the top left of the jersey, with the Orlando City crest on the top right. 

Also new to the 2012 Orlando City jersey is the updated crest. A gold star now sits below the three-headed lion in remembrance of City’s 2011 USL PRO Championship victory.

The new scudetto will also be added to the jersey before the Lions start the regular season, with three crowns inside the outline of the Orlando City crest. The three crowns represent the three titles Orlando City won during the inaugural 2011 campaign- the USL PRO championship, USL PRO regular season championship, and the American Division championship.

The new purple jerseys will be available for purchase next week and season tickets are still available at www.OrlandoCitySoccer.com

Here’s some video from our conversation about the upcoming season:

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