Perhaps you haven’t heard.
While some around town were busy checking in on the latest episode of the Dwight Howard saga and keeping tabs on NFL transactions, a local professional soccer team has been dominating league play this year and has emerged at the top of its class.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Orlando City Soccer Club.
The Lions are currently in first place in the United Soccer League PRO division, possessing a 14-1-4 record, a healthy distance between themselves and second-place Rochester and an intriguing friendly scheduled on Saturday. The Lions will be hosting Stoke City F.C. of the Barclays English Premier League at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Stoke City finished 14th last year in the EPL — one of the most recognizable and distinguished professional soccer leagues in the world — behind leading scorer Peter Crouch.
Although the exhibition match will not effect the Lions’ overall record or standing in the USL PRO ranks, former UCF soccer player and current Orlando City forward Matt Luzunaris recognizes this as an opportunity to prove his team, considered a prime candidate for expansion by Major League Soccer, can compete at the highest level.
“Stoke City, I consider it more of a treat and a way to showcase ourselves against a top club from England and in the world,” Luzunaris said. “It’s always great to play against teams that have top-class players from top-class clubs. We look at it as an opportunity to show what we’ve got.”
After playing for UCF during his freshman year, Luzunaris left the program to move to Europe and went pro. The road to becoming an integral part of Orlando City included playing for two Austrian teams, being loaned to Botafogo in Brazil and signing with the San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS before being loaned in 2011 to the Lions, where he eventually signed a deal.
Luzunaris dealt with injuries earlier this year and feels that the past few weeks have shown a lot of progression for him on a personal level.
“I think I have just put my head down, gotten to work and I’m just having fun with it. I’m really enjoying being healthy, being around a great group of guys, coaches and organization,” Luzunaris said. “This is my work and job, but I’m going to put in 150 percent for my guys just like I know they are going to do for me.”
The match against Stoke City won’t necessarily be a make-or-break deal for Luzunaris and his teammates. With their eyes set on winning the league and repeating as USL PRO Champions, they’ll give it their best shot without letting a defeat loom or a win get them too high.
“Our focus is on the league. I think we’ve come a long way,” Luzunaris said. “I think everyone is really hungry and is starting to realize when we put a solid 90 minutes or 45 minutes each half, we can beat anyone in the country — from the MLS on down.”