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Defying Expectations: Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City Soccer Story Kindle Edition
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Of course with it being the story of Phil Rawlins and his success, the story is told by the winner, i.e. there are some things that are sugar coated a little. An example of this is his time in Austin with the Austin Aztex. The PDL was in dire straits when they joined the league, and even though they tried, the book mentions that Rawlins could not get any support in Austin because if it did not pertain to the Longhorns, no one was interested. Though this is most likely true, it is also true that the city of Austin did not care for Rawlins. I was recently on Twitter talking about the potential of moving the Columbus Crew SC to Austin, and I asked how Austin would support the Crew when they did not support the Aztex. The response was unanimous that Rawlins did not get the support of the city because of his attitude and his decisions that resulted in the alienation of the fanbase. Somewhere in the middle is the truth, but this story does show that there might be a bit of a skewed telling of the tale.
I believe most of it. I cannot watch an Orlando City game and not be impressed by the home crowds. They have chants, they have tifos, they field a good team, they have record setting attendance (until Atlanta United came into the league) and they have a club that they can be proud to cheer for. Most of this is due to Phil Rawlins and his vision. "Defying Expectations" is a well constructed, nice telling of his story, and definitely a must read of anyone who loves MLS, American soccer, or soccer stories in general.
I received this as an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The origins of Orlando City can be traced back to another soccer club, Stoke City who is currently a club in the English Barclay’s Premier League. This team was the one Phil Rawlins followed from childhood and when they had been playing poorly enough to be relegated out of the Premier League, Rawlins felt it was time to do something about that and he became an influential member of Stoke’s board. His innovation put Stoke back on track, but the lure of building a soccer team in the United States brought him to Austin, Texas. There, with his then-wife Wendy (Rawlins would have three wives, Kay being his most recent) they put together a success team in the heart of American football territory, piling up wins and drawing fans to Austin’s minor league team.
However, Phil’s ultimate goal was to build a team in the largest American league for soccer, Major League Soccer (MLS). The league wanted to expand to the southeastern part of the country and Orlando was considered to be one of the markets in which a franchise could be viable. By then, Phil realized he had gone as far as he could in Austin, so he and his new wife decided to make the plunge and go for it in Orlando.
Using Six Core Values the couple developed at the kitchen table, they set out to find investors and other key personnel required to build a team. Like in Austin, the franchise in Orlando started in the United Soccer League, winning the title in their first year, 2011. But unlike Austin, they saw much more potential. Through hard work, perseverance even after setbacks such as denial for stadium funding from the Florida legislature and a very large and loyal fan following, the club became an MLS expansion team in 2015. They made the league sit up and take notice by not only signing Brazillian superstar Kaka, but also for selling over 60,000 tickets for the very first game. Orlando City has been one of the more successful MLS franchises since then and they hope to continue this into the future.
This entire story is told in an easy to read manner by Simon and Susan Veness and covers much of Phil Rawlins’ life successes in both business and soccer. The story of how he went from a hustling salesman to earning $259 million on an initial IPO is just as interesting a tale as is the success of Orlando City. The book is part business, part soccer and part biography of a man who never let setbacks stop him from achieving his visions. It is an inspiring story that readers will enjoy, even if they are not soccer fans.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.