Ahead of our meeting with Orlando City this week, we’ve tracked down a man with a foot in both camps to give a unique perspective of what lies in wait for the Gunners.
A Gooner since birth, Taylor Williams is also the founder of Orlando City’s official UK supporters’ club, and follows both teams with passion whichever side of the Atlantic they may be playing.
And with his two loves facing off for the first time ever, we spoke to Taylor for the lowdown on our opponents, as well as some tips for those supporters visiting Exploria Stadium.
Firstly Taylor, why do you support Arsenal?
I’m from Stevenage so I’m within Arsenal territory. My dad used to be a season ticket holder so I’d get down now and again, and I’ve been treated to the best Arsenal teams and players during my lifetime.
My favourite memory is the 2002 FA Cup final against Chelsea in Cardiff. I went with my dad as a last-minute kind of thing, and we managed to pick up tickets.
So how did your love of Orlando City begin?
My family have vacationed in Orlando for over 30 years and used to have a holiday villa over there, so it’s like a second home. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there 15 times or more. I remember watching our first ever MLS game against NYCFC at what is now known as Camping World Stadium back in 2015 and from then I was hooked.
There’s a great Dennis Bergkamp quote about why you choose a football club: it’s not the history or the trophies, you support it because you found a place where you belong. That quote is so poignant as to why I follow Orlando City - a familiarity with the destination. Arsenal is my number one and always will be, but my passion for Orlando City is neck and neck.
How did Orlando City UK start?
We began in 2016 after the club’s first season in MLS, and came purely from a passion for the team. I started a Twitter account and just posted a few musings at the beginning talking about how the team played, and it snowballed. We’ve grown into an officially affiliated fan club with over 60 UK members and over 4,000 followers on Twitter. It is my baby and has grown bigger than I ever anticipated.
Why should Arsenal fans choose Orlando as their MLS team?
Picking Orlando is like a microcosm for the league as a whole - you’re always going to be entertained, both good and bad. Only in the last couple of years have we mastered a strong defence, but before that, we were involved in some of the craziest games you could think of. On Twitter, we were nicknamed the Cardiac Cats because we had a reputation for stoppage-time goals and late drama.
Major League Soccer is such an entertaining league. It’s not the standard of the top leagues in the world but if you want to watch good football with famous names of the past mixed with young talent, watch MLS.
How has this season been so far?
It’s been strange. Our off-season saw a lot of transition and key pieces needed to be replaced, so despite being 21 games into a 34-game season, we’re still feeling our way. We’re in a play-off spot despite not being at our best, but we’re struggling to hit form and find consistency this season.
What should Arsenal expect to face?
The Arsenal game comes in the middle of a packed schedule. We’ve reached the semi-finals of the US Open Cup tournament, so we’ll be contesting eight games in the month of July alone, a hell of a lot for a roster that isn’t the biggest. With that said, I expect us to play a fairly strong team as these games don’t come around too often and there’s a big promotional angle to playing top European sides.
Who are the dangermen to look out for?
Our best player is Pedro Gallese, our goalkeeper and the Peru international captain. He’s been at the club since 2020 and has been a real gamechanger. They call him El Pulpo which is Spanish for The Octopus, and when you watch him play, you'll know why. He is capable of making some of the most agile stops I’ve seen.
Facundo Torres has been our big signing this season. He’s 22 and already a Uruguayan international, so he’s destined for the top and I believe he’ll play a part. Alexandre Pato has been a bit-part player this season so he could get a start, but our coach Oscar Pareja doesn’t like to rotate too much.
What is the stadium like?
Exploria Stadium was built for our 2017 season so is relatively new. Whether you’re standing or sitting, there’s not a bad vantage point. We’re famous for our standing section called The Wall which was the first of its kind in MLS and many sides have copied it since. It is our most raucous area with drummers and pyrotechnics - there’s always something going on.
The gameday atmosphere is completely different to the UK; there are lots of things going on in the lead-up to kick-off. There’s the tailgating culture too, so I would suggest Arsenal supporters get there in plenty of time before kick-off, take in everything and you’ll have a great experience.
Who will you be supporting?
I’m still trying to work out who I’m rooting for as they’re both my teams - maybe Orlando City because it would mean more to us, but I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
It should be a competitive game. I think Arsenal will win 3-1; I do think Orlando City will score as we’re in the midst of our season and will keep things respectable, but I can see Arsenal’s quality telling. I’m really looking forward to it!
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