Soccer Dopeness >>> Orlando City Lions From A Car Photographer’s Perspective
Before I joined the staff of OMGDrift and before I even owned a camera, I actually was pretty active. I played as a starting defender on my high school’s soccer team for three years, and then played intramural soccer at my college until Junior year when the mechanical engineering books started piling up. While I do miss playing, I have always found photography from soccer games to be fascinating, and now I finally have an opportunity to capture my own of a professional team, the Orlando City Lions.
So why am I posting this on a website that is so heavily focused on drifting? After looking through the hundreds of photos I took, I realized how similar two very different sports can be. Citrus Bowl Stadium, the home to Orlando City, reminded me a lot of the raceways scattered across the globe. This might explain why China converts a soccer field to a drift championship every year for their world series.
The media room was quite a bit larger than what I have become used to, with three tiers of seats overlooking the field. Food, drink, power, and internet access were all provided, a luxury that is not always available at events I have attended.
Aside from Sebring’s blue vests, I think I have always worn a yellow iteration at every event I have done media for. Definitely cannot be mistaken for a player with the bright yellow contrasting the purple of the Lion’s jerseys!
Heading down to the field, the two teams had beat me to begin practicing. After watching the team warming up for a few minutes, I realized how similar our warm ups were in high school. I guess no matter what level you are playing at, you still need to warm up the same muscles before the 90 minutes of play that follows.
While in drifting the spotter tells the driver what corrections to make during a race, assistant coach Ian Fuller directed the starters as they warmed up for the match. Having the right mindset before any game can be the difference between a win and a loss and considering how well the Lions are doing this season, I would say the coaching staff does a pretty great job.
Every sports team has a head coach or crew chief, and Orlando City has Adrian Heath at the reins. The cheers as he entered the stadium were as loud and as excited as those for the top players of the Lions, showing how much he glues together the team and their fans.
While Formula Drift has judges to enforce the rules of each round, referees take to the field at each match, having to keep pace with the players as they charge the goal line. Similar to the drift world, by pushing the limits of these rules, great rewards can come from a well timed play.
Once again I couldn’t help thinking of Formula Drift as the players were introduced to an excited crowd before the start of the match, but instead of being escorted by umbrella girls, they had young athletes to guide them out. It would be quite a sight seeing the drivers walking out with a handful of young fans from the audience at a round in the future.
With a loud roar from the crowd and a blow of the referee’s whistle, the game started and the clock started on its way to 90 minutes.
While I normally would find a spot and move within a few runs at drift events, movement was quite restricted during the games, so choosing that perfect shot took a little more out of the box thinking.
Sitting only a couple feet from the field, it was so refreshing being able to shoot without a barrier or fence blocking my creative freedom. The only downside came with the constant rainfall throughout the match, leaving me far from any sort of cover with my new camera.
Of course I didn’t mind the rain, with players sliding through the slick grass and leading up to a few close calls to injury. I really had to think through framing and timing for once, since the action in drifting typically took place along a set path, I was constantly on my toes as players would collide from every direction.
Another concept I love is the fan section placed behind the goal, with the Iron Lion Firm made up of purple and red clad fans screaming and chanting for the entirety of the match. The passion from these fans trumped the energy I have felt from any other event I have been to. Even at the quietest points of the match I could see fans jumping and singing with smiles for miles.
Of course the altercations between opposing teammates brought the crowd to their feet as they cheered for their team to keep fighting on.
Unlike cleaning up the remains of bumpers and car parts from the wrecks at a track day, action resumes as soon as the players return to their feet. Within the first 45 minutes of play, Orlando City had scored twice with dramatic celebrations.
With Jean Alexandre having a quite season so far, his excitement from scoring both the first and second goal of the match carried over through his team as they all ran to him to celebrate. The energy from these players was really incredible to experience, especially with it unfolding only feet from where I was standing.
Of course the excitement on the field charged up the energy of the stadium as streamers, confetti, and smoke filled the air after each goal. The Formula D judges really need to visit one of these games to see just how excited these guys get from confetti blasters.
Even though number 77, Jamie Watson, didn’t score a goal during this match, each time he had possession of the ball, the crowd would cheer and chant his name as he sprinted toward the goal with his team en route. Maybe if I put my name on my media vest, people will cheer for me?
Unfortunately for Watson, his day came to an early end as he was knocked from his feet and injured out of the game. This didn’t keep the fans from continuing to yell out encouragements to him and to reprimand the opposing team for injuring their star player.
Like at most sporting / motorsport events, the unsung heroes are those you don’t always notice. Scattered around the field were a dozen kids standing in the rain, ready to assist the players with a fresh soccer ball or a full water bottle. Similar to the track workers at drift events, they do it because they love the game, with no compensation expected at the opportunity to be so close to the action.
As the second half started, the teams changed sides and so did I, finally getting the opportunity to shoot the players as they charged the field with a crowd of 8,000 fans to their backs.
With a Canon 200mm f/2.8, the crowd turned to a nice bokeh as the players came within feet of me and my fellow media workers. I also decided to shoot the left half of the field this time, giving me the opportunity to shoot Senegal born Adama Mbengue as he charged the goal.
I also tried to keep a little closer to the goal as action started heating up just outside the goal box during the second half. I kept being told that I would have issues shooting the game with a 200mm on a full frame, but I think these came out pretty good so far!
Of course, certain shots had to be cropped down a little, but considering Alexandre was fairly close to the center line in this shot, a little crop brought this together. Oh, and smoke is also a factor here, with fans lighting off smoke bombs every so often to keep things interesting.
As the game started coming to a close, the Lions started to get creative with their plays, attempting bicycle kicks and adding a touch of flair to otherwise routine plays.
After 71 minutes of game play, Dennis Chin finally scored and brought the Orlando City up to three goals for the match.
Another player that stuck out to me throughout the match was the Kansas City native Kevin Ellis. Playing strong in the wing, he setup up key attacks on the goal for Orlando City throughout the match. I also caught him giving a few fans high fives after the match, lighting up their eyes with excitement at getting two seconds of contact with a soccer idol.
After an onslaught of attacks on the Lions goal, Miguel Gallardo only allowed one goal to pass through, keeping the Lions alive to the finish with a 3-1 win against Harrisburg. Celebrations and cheers erupted across the stadium as the final minutes of stoppage time came to an end. As each player left the field, the fans gave high fives and a big thumbs up to show their team how proud they were for another win this season.
With 12 wins this season, Orlando City continues to lead in the United Soccer League (USL) championship. I had a great time on the front lines and can’t wait to shoot the next home game on August 3. If you live in Orlando, give it a shot, you just might like it!
Thank you Chris Jones and Brian Paul for the great opportunity to come out and shoot a great match!