Interview with Taylor Williams, Orlando City UK
Anyone familiar with the MLS UK community will undoubtedly realise what a huge presence Taylor Williams has become, particularly from an Orlando City perspective. The founder of Orlando City UK (@Orlando_CityUK on Twitter and www.weareorlandocityuk.com), Orlando City SC's official UK supporters club. I had the immense privilege of talking with Taylor about all things Orlando City.
So, without further ado let's get right into it...
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Taylor. You're a well know presence in the Orlando City community? So how does an Arsenal fan from Stevenage end up supporting Orlando City!?
It all goes back to my childhood. Fortunately, I was lucky enough for my Mum and Dad to regularly take me to The City Beautiful for many years growing up. Instantly, I fell in love with the destination. From the theme parks to the shopping malls to the amazing all-American eats along International Drive, it was a place I simply couldn’t get enough of. Having keenly watched Major League Soccer and collected MLS jerseys since 2006, I loved MLS at large but didn’t really follow a particular team. It was only natural I wanted to ride the purple wave after Don Garber announced Orlando City SC as Major League Soccer’s 21st franchise in November 2013. From that moment forth, Orlando City SC were the MLS team I wanted to root for.
And how important is it for the club to have prominent supporters clubs overseas?
For any soccer club to be considered ‘big’ and an enviable presence, they have to have a large and passionate supporter culture. This for me is validation and what every true soccer fan wants. Despite being a relatively new club in MLS, Orlando City SC is a club that continues to garner worldwide support – unlike most other MLS teams. The Lions have a recognized supporter’s club in Brazil as well as our very own Official International Fan Club – Orlando City UK.
Since establishing my supporters’ club in November 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to welcome over 50 signed-up members while gathering a Twitter community online of over 3.3k followers. Having ran several Watch Parties with signed-up members in London, supporting a club from overseas is wonderfully unique and helps other MLS enthusiasts to realise just how well supported Orlando City SC are.
What is your most favourite thing about supporting Orlando City?
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the sense of community and Orlando City SC’s us-against-the-world mentality. Orlando City SC truly is one big family. I have never experienced this supporting a football club before. Ever since establishing my Orlando City UK supporters’ club and travelling to take in my first live game (against Real Salt Lake at the Citrus Bowl in March 2016), the club and its supporters have been nothing short of amazing to me. So much so that I’ve been privileged to visit the Front Office multiple times, be a part of the player’s rally tunnel, and receive behind-the-scenes tours of the club’s Exploria Stadium home and previous Sylvan Lake Park training complex. My family and I even featured on a live Fox 35 broadcast previewing Orlando City SC’s first ever game at Exploria Stadium. That experience was awesome!
With Orlando City SC supporters regularly interacting with my Orlando City UK Twitter account online and supporting the work we do; this has translated over into real-life also. In my years visiting The City Beautiful to watch Orlando City SC play live, I’ve met lifelong friends and also consider my Orlando City UK members good friends also. Being an Arsenal fan, there is a Dennis Bergkamp quote that for me, sums up by adoration of Orlando City SC perfectly.
It reads: “When you start supporting a football club, you don't support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.”
What are your earliest memories of supporting Orlando City?
My earliest memory of supporting Orlando City UK was in 2015 when the club had just joined MLS. Fortunately enough, Sky Sports remain the home of Major League Soccer in the UK and were broadcasting Orlando City SC’s inaugural fixture against New York City FC in March 2015. Watching the game at home in the UK and seeing the swathes of purple supporters filling the bowl truly brought goosebumps to my body. From that moment forth, the club captured my heart and I’ve been hopelessly in love with them ever since.
Orlando City UK is the premiere international Orlando City supporters club. What inspired you to form a UK based supporters club?
Originally, I had no plans to start my own UK supporters’ club of Orlando City SC. In the beginning, I simply enjoyed watching the team on Sky Sports, staying up late, burning the midnight oil and intermittently sending a tweet or two on my personal Twitter account regarding the team’s fortunes under Adrian Heath.
But as those Twitter interactions became more frequent, I decided it would be an amazing idea to start an Orlando City UK Twitter account and website - a platform for all UK supporters of Orlando City SC to join and share in the team. From that moment, I noticed that Orlando City SC had a section on their website entitled “International Fan Clubs”. Listening to things like Tom Traxler and Jeff Radcliffe’s Coach’s Show at Harry Buffalo on Church Street every week, my passion for the team was growing by the week. Reaching out to Alex Wolf at Orlando City SC, he was amazing with me and helped Orlando City UK to become formally affiliated with Orlando City SC in May 2016.
Much has been made of Orlando City's recent improvement, reaching the MLS Is Back final and winning a play-off game, how far do you think Oscar Pareja's team can go in 2021?
Honestly, I think Orlando City SC should be reaching for the stars and aiming to win the 2021 MLS Cup Final this year. I mean, that’s what we all want, right? After five rather dismal years in MLS, everything changed following the appointments of Luiz Muzzi, Oscar Pareja and Ricardo Moreira. Not only have this trio brought crucial MLS experience to the 407, their grit, hunger, competency and man-management skills mean Orlando City SC are truly a different animal nowadays compared to failed previous eras. I’m firm in the belief we can reach the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs and truly believe the experiences losing the MLS Is Back Final and 2020 Eastern Conference semi-final to New England Revolution will put us in good stead for future success. So often in sport, bad experiences make way for better ones down the line. Having kept the 2020 squad together for this season, we have a roster with a chip on their shoulder and a determination to go one better and win it all in 2021.
It's been a relatively quiet off-season, at least compared to years gone by. In your opinion, which areas of the team still need to be strengthened in the off-season? Who would you like to see us go in for?
It’s been eerily quiet at times but this is a hugely positive sign. As Orlando City SC supporters, we’ve been used to off-seasons being jam-packed full of frantic roster moves as we’ve attempted to reconstruct the club to its envisaged glory following downright awful MLS campaigns. After all, in just 7 years, we’ve experienced Adrian Heath, Jason Kreis, James O’Connor and now Oscar Pareja at the helm.
The fact we signed up Antonio Carlos and Andres Perea to permanent contracts early this off-season, not to mention the fact we extended Robin Jansson’s deal, means the fundamentals are in place. Considering Joao Moutinho missed a large portion of 2020 due to injury, we need backup depth at left back considering Kamal Miller joined CF Montreal last month. Jamaican international Kemar Lawrence would be an amazing signing from Anderlecht but I’m not 100% sure about his contractual situation.
We've seen more and more Orlando City players receive international recognition with the USMNT recently, how important is that recognition in terms of growing Orlando City as a competitive force in MLS?
Firstly, it’s amazing that Daryl Dike, Benji Michel, Chris Mueller and Andres Perea are all on Gregg Berhalter’s current USMNT roster. It’s a testament to how well they all did under Oscar Pareja in 2020. Joining the national setup will only inspire these Orlando City SC players even more, making them hungrier to achieve the next goal. As Orlando City SC catapults even more talent into the national pool, the Lions are becoming a better-respected team, both on and off the pitch. If Orlando City SC can continue to provide a pathway for young Americans to join the USMNT, this will persuade even more young talent to cut their teeth in MLS with the club. Even in his short tenure so far, you can see how Pareja is transforming Orlando into a club with the reputation of his former employers FC Dallas.
I just want to touch on MLS rivalries for a minute. Obviously, you and I grew up supporting teams with 100 year old rivalries... It's a huge part of the English game. MLS has often been accused of trying to manufacture rivalries. That being said the Orlando-Miami and Orlando-Atlanta rivalries seem to be gathering real traction among supporters. Do these rivalries have the potential to become as bad tempered as some of England's big rivalries, if given the time?
For me, rivalry is the best part about competitive sport. The joy of defeating your arch-rival is palpable and there truly is nothing better. When Orlando City SC finally defeated Atlanta United at the umpteenth attempt in 2020, the feeling was simply incredible. I have no problem with MLS manufacturing these rivalries. It adds greater meaning to the league and you’re seeing some real traction in some of the geographic rivalries now. If you ask me, the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders rivalry is still the best in MLS but newer rivalries are getting fiercer with each passing year. While Inter Miami are now Orlando City SC’s in-state MLS rivals, Atlanta United is still enemy number one in my eyes. I just don’t like anything about their club!
What's your favourite or most prominent memory of watching the Orlando City live?
My first ever live Orlando City SC game was Adrian Heath’s Lions vs. Real Salt Lake in March 2016. When Cyle Larin and Adrian Winter somehow salvaged a 0-2 deficit in stoppage time. To this day, I still don’t quite know how we managed to tie that game. Pure scenes! In a cavernous Citrus Bowl, the heat was so intense on that day and I still don’t quite know how our boys manage to play through those sweltering conditions.
Do you have a favourite Orlando City goal?
My favourite Orlando City SC goal is Will Johnson’s header away at Montreal Impact’s Stade Saputo home in June 2019. A goal I was lucky enough to witness live after I emigrated to Canada, this was a beautiful team goal in every sense.
Johnson’s goal itself was somewhat routine but the build-up was simply sensational. Racing into a rare 0-2 first-half lead, wild man Will all but ended the contest with a diving header that followed a long passage of unchallenged Orlando City SC passing. This was honestly like watching Barcelona’s tiki-taka at its best, so much so that even Matt Doyle couldn’t help but applaud, and I quote, a “gorgeous” play and our “best team goal” scored to date.
Who is your current favourite on the Orlando City squad?
There are so many likeable guys on the current Orlando City SC roster but I have to say Chris Mueller. A guy we knew had a high upside for some time, Cash fortunately managed to put it all together in 2020. Now a United States international that scored two goals on his international debut, the guy oozes passion and is a genuinely positive person and all-round nice guy. He’s always taken time to sign autographs and say hello on previous trips to see the team play live.
What would you say to any soccer fan overseas, who is thinking about following an MLS team and why should it be Orlando City?
You’re always going to support your Premier League team until the day you die. For me, this is Arsenal. But if your team is going through the motions and you’re looking for a second team based some place across the world, exempt from direct competition with your birth team, choose to support Orlando City SC.
One big family from the supporters’ club tailgates to members of the Front Office, support our MLS team that is on the up. Playing exciting, expansive soccer where we are the protagonist in every game, whether it be home or away, share in a club that is 100% unique. Trust me, you will not regret it.
You certainly won't, thanks a lot Taylor! You can find Taylor on Twitter @Orlando_CityUK and online at www.weareorlandocityuk.com if you are interested in finding out more about Orlando City SC's official UK supporters club.