As an expansion Major League Soccer team, the Orlando City Soccer Club marked the return of professional soccer to Florida for the first time since 2001, selling out the sixty-thousand-seat Citrus Bowl for its home opener and going on to have the second‑highest home attendance for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. It was the successful culmination of a nine-year process orchestrated by the team’s owner, Phil Rawlins, who sold his successful sales consultancy company for a shot at sports ownership and a chance to tap into America’s growing interest in pro soccer.
Rawlins was relentless in building a franchise from the ground up, overcoming crippling setbacks, devious politics, and near financial ruin. Underpinning his efforts was a deep commitment to re-creating the tribal passion and community spirit of his hometown team in the United Kingdom, Stoke City, for which he served as board member for fourteen years. The payoff was the Orlando City Soccer Club, an attractive new team that galvanized the region. The subsequent acquisition of international superstar Ricardo Kaká catapulted the club to celebrity status and ensured that its debut season defied expectations.
Defying Expectations gives insight into the challenges faced on the road to success, challenges through which Rawlins has remained focused on the six core values that he and his wife formulated at their kitchen table years ago, continuing to foster a community institution that gives back as much as it receives.