Izzy's first football match

My Daughter's First Football Match

Orlando City vs Atlanta United - Friday August 23, 2019

MLS Eastern Conference

The wife is obsessed with Disney. As an extension, so am I and so are both of the kids. Obviously I've got a bit of an obsession with football grounds too, so as soon as we booked Florida for late August 2019, I looked at the MLS fixtures and was delighted to see that not only were Orlando at home when we were there, but they were due to play their "local" rivals, Atlanta United.

The wife and I have both been to see Orlando before at the Citrus Bowl, but since then, they've moved into the new Orlando City Stadium (now known as the Exploria Stadium, for sponsorship reasons). So it'd be a new ground for us both (number 103 for me and XX for Mrs footballgroundmap.com)... but... we'd have the kids with us...

My son is 6 and a half and despite the fact that he went to his first match 4 years ago, he "doesn't like football" (I think he says that to spite me). My daughter is almost 2 and a half and hasn't yet been to a game. After much deliberation we decided to take the plunge and buy tickets - even if it meant one of us (Mrs footballgroundmap.com) running round after the kids for 90 minutes whilst the other one (me) watched the match. We'd looked at the stadium before and seen that the concourse goes round three quarters of it so thought there'd be plenty of places for my daughter Izzy to roam, if she got bored.

After a needlessly complicated process through Ticketmaster, we eventually bought 4 "verified resale tickets" (whatever they are) for $xx each, plus the same again booking fee, plus about the same again to park the car - a total cost of $xx (around £xx).

Gameday

Fast forward to the holiday and after a morning spent at the Blizzard Beach water park, we headed back to our room at All Star Sports and changed into our Orlando colours - my wife and son in their replica shirts and myself in a purple OCSC t-shirt. We couldn't find anything football-ranted for Izzy, but she was happy in her purple Daisy Duck top!

After a slowly served pre-match "McDon Don", we headed up the I4 and battled our way through Orlando's Friday night rush hour traffic and parked up.

It took about 15 minutes to walk to the stadium past the Amway Center (home to the Orlando Magic basketball team) and a series of bars in the city's Church Street. This area had been closed to traffic and had a stage with a DJ playing songs as fans of both teams drank in the streets. Izzy enjoyed a quick dance whilst Alex dragged us on to the stadium.

Directly outside the ground was another fan zone and something we'd experienced at our first Orlando match 2 years ago - row upon row of pop-up stalls from local businesses giving away freebies. We spent an hour or so going up and down, letting the kids play on the games and getting whatever we could for free. Some big companies were there...

Alex and Izzy playing football outside the stadium
Alex and Izzy playing football outside the stadium

Heading into the stadium

After entertaining the kids with the games outside, we headed into the ground through airport-style security checks including bag searches and body scanners - more high-tech (and much slower) than the pat downs you get in England. These checks were for all fans, rather than the usual focus on away fans back home. Orlando also have a strict clear bag policy - if it's not in a small see-through plastic bag, it's not getting in.

Walking to our seats, we made a detour to the "first game" section to get the kids "my first Orlando game" stickers and certificates. The wife very kindly got me an "it's my birthday" sticker too as this was technically my 37th birthday present from her.

We then made our way to our seats right at the far end of the xxx stand. We had chosen block 130 on the upper tier, partly because the seats were cheaper, but partly too because the was next to The Wall, Orlando's most vocal group of supporters.

The first thing we noticed about the stand was the material - it wasn't the usual concrete and steel that we're used to in Europe. Instead it seemed to be constructed out of aluminium which felt a little wobbly... particularly when stamping feet to create noise during the match. The total cost of the stadium was more than $155m... that's a lot of money to spend on a few tonnes of aluminium and plastic seats.

The seats we'd chosen had a fantastic view of 90% of the match... unfortunately the near side corner was obstructed by railings and the regular occurrence of people getting up and going for a beer/popcorn/nachos/other American snack. Maybe it's the seats we sat in or the fact that we were on the end of a row, but it seems like we were interrupted every few seconds by somebody getting up and missing the match for some food or drink related reason.

Anyway... we got to our seats a couple of minutes before kick off to see the teams enter the pitch to a great roar from the crowd and a couple of organised purple pyrotechnics from The Wall. The kids were both suitably impressed as purple smoke was blown onto the pitch to create a great atmospheric feel.

The announcing of the teams was preceded by the American national anthem. I'd forgotten how proud a nation the Americans are, but the national anthem before every single match just seems a bit much, in all honesty. The match eventually kicked off at around 8:10pm, the advertised 8:00pm seeming more like the time the teams emerged from the tunnel as opposed to the kick-off time (just another small difference between the game in the US vs Europe).

Pre-match selfie
Family selfie!

The Match

When the action did eventually start, we were treated to a great match which flowed from end-to-end almost from the first whistle. It was certainly enough to keep Alex (6) and Izzy (2) entertained for way longer than I anticipated. Both joined in with the chants of "Orlando... City" which we'd been preparing them for in the previous few weeks.

Orlando were pushing for a play-off place and had a lot of the ball in and around Atlanta's area but couldn't find the killer touch. Twice they came close with chances which looked harder to miss, but both times the efforts hit the wrong side of the netting. Atlanta were top of the Eastern Conference coming into the game (and second in the Supporters' Shield behind LAFC) and on the hour mark their superiority showed as Josef Martinez scored the decisive goal. The Venezuelan striker scoring for an MLS record 12th consecutive match.

Orlando made a few changes after the goal, bringing on Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Mueller to join Portuguese legend Nani. But it was to no avail as multiple opportunities went begging and Atlanta held out for a 1-0 win which strengthened their grip on top spot in the MLS Eastern Conference.

Martinez's goal sparked celebrations from the few hundred Atlanta fans who were seated in the corner opposite to us and pockets of away supporters all around the stadium. Interestingly there was no dedicated away end with fans free to sit wherever they wanted (we saw numerous Atlanta fans in the same stand as us). Surprising really for a game which took place on Heineken Rivalry Week - it was (at the time) both teams' local derby, despite being almost 450 miles away (a 6 and a half hour drive). Despite that fact, there wasn't a hint of trouble and the police presence was very low. In fact, I don't think I saw a single police officer there.

Izzy and Alex were very well behaved and were treated to a couple of things from the shop at half time - Alex got a good quality football, Izzy was treated to a Lego-style Orlando City figure. I added a US/Orlando pin badge to my collection.

Their interest started to wane a little in the second half with Izzy taking my phone to play jigsaws. Alex lasted a little longer, but was starting to get bored by the end.

After the match, we walked back to the car and dropped in a pizza parlour on the way to treat the kids before we drove home. The slice was enormous and fantastic value for $3 - easily enough for the wife and kids to share. I don't like pizza, so I missed out :(

We left the pizza place and headed back to the car, aware that it was Friday night, dark, and the locals have guns!

Alex and Kingston - Orlando's mascot
Alex and Kingston - Orlando's mascot (Alex is the one on the right!)

Atmosphere

The Atlanta fans congregated in the far corner made very little noise. That may be because the noise didn't travel, or more likely due it it being drowned out by The Wall next to us. The Wall is Orlando's standing section which holds around 4,000 fans and is run in European-style way of fans at the front of the stand facing away from the match, leading the chants. A little alien to us Brits, but the atmosphere was certainly very loud throughout the match from the very first whistle to the very last kick.

Whilst that might sound like a compliment it's actually a little bit of a complaint... whilst creating an atmosphere is great, the contrast singing throughout meant you couldn't tell what was happening on the pitch. Are Orlando attacking? Are they defending? Have they just scored or won a thrown-in? It's strange really, but the contrast noise actually drowns out the moments of tension in a match. Orlando have a corner, sing as loud as you can. The other team have a corner, sing as loud as you can. The other team have just scored, still sing as loud as you can. It's a strange thing to hear (and complain about), but the constant singing is a bit of a negative in my opinion.

Another big difference to the atmosphere in the UK is how supportive and family-friendly everyone is. The amount of swearing is very minimal (other you "ooooooh... you suck asshole" when the opposition goalkeeper took a goal kick). It's also overwhelmingly positive. A pass goes astray in England and you'll hear murmurings from the crowd and the odd call of "get him off". Not at Orlando. I don't think I've heard any negativity in either of the games I've seen live. The fans are also very excitable. I was talking to Alex and missed something on the pitch which was greeted with an almighty cheer. I thought I'd missed a goal or a penalty being awarded. Turned out Atlanta had a player booked. Incredible noise for such an unincredible event.

Orlando City Stadium
The inside of Orlando City Stadium

Other observations about the MLS

I realise that some of the things I've written may sound a little critical. They're not supposed to. I'm just trying to highlight how soccer in the States is different from the football we know and love back home.

Looking back, there seems to be 2 types of supporter in America: Type A is the dedicated fan. They love the game and go week in week out no matter how their team is playing (much like fans in England). Type B is the fan who's at their first game, trying out soccer to see what it's like. They're maybe out with friends and thought they'd give it a go. A bit like if I ever went to ice hockey or baseball in England - I don't really care about it, but I'd go for the experience. That's the only way I can explain the (seemingly) constant stream of people leaving their seats throughout the match and the incredible number of people on the concourse a good 5 minutes after the second half had kicked off. These weren't people necking the last bit of a half-time pint. They were stood on the concourse with their back to the action with little to no interest in what was going on on the pitch. I suppose that's to be expected really. Football in Orlando is still quite new - this is only the city's 4th season in the MLS. Their opening game attracted a crowd of over 62,000, so they know how to pull in the punters!

See you next time OCSC

So, that was Izzy's first football match and Alex's first in America. Despite a couple of tantrums it was a great experience and one which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Football in America is so much different to watching it in the UK - it's much more child friendly and that makes for an enjoyable experience for everyone. Will we go again next time we go to Disney? Definitely.

Izzy all tired out after the match - I think she had a good day!
Izzy all tired out after the match - I think she had a good day!

About the Author: Rob Clarkson

Rob is the owner of footballgroundmap.com. A Sheffield United fan and father of two, Rob loves nothing more than a good game of football whether that's watching the Blades or one his local non-League teams. He's somewhat of a traditionalist, preferring the older grounds to newer purpose-built ones.

Away from footballgroundmap.com, Rob works as an Ecommerce Manager for one of the UK's largest video games retailers. He also owns and runs kick22.com, a system which allows junior and non-League clubs to create their own low cost website.

Sheffield United supporter • 104 grounds visited • 61/92


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