Supporter Culture? Orlando City SC Supporters Assault Visiting Caps Supporters

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(EDITORIAL) The media exposure has been fantastic for Orlando City SC so far.  They have their crown jewel of a player in Kaka.  Their inaugural match seemed like a storybook.  They earned their first win as an MLS club last weekend, topping Houston Dynamo 1-nil. They’ve had tremendous support from their community.   Their kits are a work of art.  Even supporters of other clubs seem drawn to Orlando City’s purple and gold.

Then, on a perfect Orlando afternoon, the Lions hosted the Whitecaps.  The ‘Caps have a strong supporters group themselves.  They travel well, even to the other side of the continent for a week three match.  During about the 50th minute, Twitter gave OCSC supporters their first MLS-level black eye.

It seems that this is not the first time Orlando City supporters have been involved with violence in the stands. In an article from July 8, 2014, four Orlando supporters were arrested for “various charges” at a match in Tampa Bay.  There has also been mention of rowdy behavior in the season opener.  In fact things got so out of hand for OCSC, who at that point had seemingly just announced that they would be entering Major League Soccer as an expansion club, co-owner and Chariman Phil Rawlins presented an open letter to fans, banned the two supporters groups (Iron Lion Firm, and The Ruckus) until they signed an agreement adhering to a new Code of Conduct that adheres to MLS guidelines.

On September 4th, 2014, it was announced that the state attorney’s office would not be filing charges on the four Orlando City supporters. Both supporters groups have since been reinstated.  This coming despite a detailed description of events by Claire Wiseman of the Tampa Bay Times:

“Stephen Marva, 24, of Deltona was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Puetz said he shoved an officer out of the way while trying to start a fight. Charles Tolman, 30, of Orlando was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Puetz said he was trying to wave a flag in the opposing team’s section and struck a police officer with the flag’s pole when he was asked to stop.

Jimmy Galvez, 28, of Orlando was charged with disorderly intoxication. Police asked him to leave three times, Puetz said, but he sneaked back in after pretending to leave. Jared Ambrose, 24, of Clermont refused to move out of the way of officers and was charged with disorderly intoxication as well, Puetz said.”

Included in the activity above, and not necessarily involving the men arrested, were reports of racial and homophobic slurs, fires and smoke bombs, and general ugliness on a game that is known as “beautiful.”

Not exactly the best look at supporter culture in Orlando.

The Whitecaps went on to win the match in Orlando 1-nil, with a late goal from Raul Octavio Rivero.  Someone watching the match said that the Orlando supporters looked stunned, “as if they had seen a ghost.”

Maybe that ghost they seemingly saw was actually karma paying a visit.

In a league actively attempting to limit acts of hooliganism in order to attract families to their arenas across two countries, events like this are still much too frequent to be acceptable.  If Orlando supporter groups think that they will make an impression of anything other than being a joke and more interested in their supposed toughness, they will need to distance themselves from such activities.  The sooner they realize, as a group, that being “ultra” or “extreme” is not a mark of respect, but one of shame and negativity in what is supposed to be a positive environment and experience for all fans, the better.

Violence tends to beget violence. That is the lesson the Iron Lion Firm and The Ruckus will need to learn in short order, lest they have further sanctions levied against them.  This time the charges might just stick, and instead of watching the beautiful game, they’ll be known as tarnish on a season that should be about celebration. Maybe they should start with adding an away supporters section at the stadium.