By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO (Reuters) – Major League Soccer awarded its latest franchise on Tuesday to Orlando before a crowd decked out in purple team colors.
MLS Commissioner Dan Garber made the announcement naming the Orlando City Soccer Club the 21st franchise in the league.
“I’m absolutely delighted for the city, I’m delighted for Central Florida, and most of all delighted for the fans who embraced us here for the past three years,” Orlando City Soccer president Phil Rawlins told Reuters.
Rawlins said the Orlando City Lions, a Pro USL team since 2010, will start playing in the league during the 2015 season.
Fans in purple shirts lined up around the block festooned with purple balloons more than two hours early in hopes of gaining admission to a downtown saloon for the celebration.
“It’s huge. It’s going to be great for the city. It’s going to be great for the fans,” said Alicia Spencer, 31, a self-employed Lions fan from Orlando.
Last month, city and county officials approved funding for an 18,000-seat, $81 million professional stadium in Orlando’s fast-developing downtown entertainment district, which is also home to Amway Arena, the arena of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
The Orlando team will be one of four expansion teams planned by the Major League Soccer through 2020. One new franchise has already been approved for New York, a partnership between the owners of the New York Yankees baseball team and the owners of the British Premier League club Manchester City.
Last week, David Beckham, who starred as a player at Manchester United, Real Madrid and the MLS club L.A. Galaxy, toured potential stadium sites in Miami for the second time in five months as he moved ahead with his plans to bring a MLS franchise to the city.
“I’m looking forward to having a brand new team to cheer for when the Magic aren’t playing,” said Alex Casper, 29, an unemployed cook and fan from Apopka, Florida.
Rawlins said he would welcome a future Beckham team in Miami. “I think any rivalry is a good thing. The fans love it. It creates an interest, a special spark for the game,” Rawlins said.
(Editing by David Adams)