Sports Editor

Orlando City OHP plans

This Orlando City rendering shows four soccer fields taking the place of four baseball fields currently behind the stadium field at Osceola County Stadium and Osceola Heritage Park. Under an agreement announced Friday, the soccer franchise will move on site in July 2019.

The Orlando City Soccer Club of Major League Soccer announced late Thursday afternoon that it will open a new training complex at Osceola Heritage Park, with a planned opening in July 2019, midway through the next MLS season.

Renderings show that the soccer fields will replace at least four of the baseball fields currently behind Osceola County Stadium at the northeast side of OHP.

In a release sent by the club, Orlando City said the new facility will become "the permanent and exclusive training complex for Orlando City of Major League Soccer and Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League."

“The training complex is the heart of our soccer operations. It’s where our product on the field reports to work every day, where they eat and recover, and most importantly, where they build the team culture and attitude that carries over to the stadium on match days,” Orlando City SC CEO Alex Leitão said in the statement. “We’ve worked hard to secure the best opportunity to support both player development and the recruitment of top talent over the past four seasons with the establishment of a top-notch soccer stadium in 2017 and now the addition of a new state-of-the-art training complex in 2019.”

Robb Larson, General Manager of Osceola Heritage Park/SMG, said this was the kind of deal that SMG had been looking for when an agreement was reached in 2017 for the facility manager to take over the baseball complex operations in October like it has had for the rest of the OHP complex; Osceola County had been operating it.

"We began eyeballing opportunities that we could approach when we to took over; when the Houston Astros left (in 2017) it left a black hole in that part of the complex, what the Florida Fire Frogs weren't using," Larson said. "When I heard Orlando City might have a need, and we had a void to fill, we reasoned it would be a logical and great opportunity for us and them."

The move, coupled with the arrival of the Orlando SeaWolves of the Major Arena Soccer League later this month, turns Osceola County into an epicenter for professional soccer.

"We saw that correlation, along with what's happening nationally with soccer," Larson said.

Sources say this complex was in the works for months, and SMG, not Osceola County, carried out the deal to address Orlando City's request for total confidentiality. Eyewitnesses saw Leitão and associates touring the portion of the facility that included the former Astros minor-league building and rear cloverleaf fields beginning late last summer.

The club said the complex will have four full-size grass soccer fields, seperate locker rooms for the Orlando City Lions and Pride "to be near replicas of the home locker room at Orlando City Stadium," fitness, training and recovery centers, film review room and players’ lounge and dining area. The administration building will be renovated to include "30,000 square feet of office space for working staff and facilities to support media operations."

Osceola County Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr., who acknowledged the secrecy of the deal from Orlando City's end, called the project, "Great for Osceola and for Heritage Park."

“There are only a few top-flight professional sports teams in the area, so for two of them, Orlando City and Orlando Pride, to build an exclusive training facility in Osceola County to use for years to come is very significant,” he said. “The duration and strength of their commitment speaks to Orlando City SC’s belief in Osceola County and the relationship we’ve built since they began their professional soccer journey.”

Orlando City said the MLS and NWSL sides will continue to train at Sylvan Lake Park and Seminole Soccer Complex in Sanford through the beginning of the 2019 season, with its youth programs remaining in Seminole County when the professional teams relocate.

This is a developing story. Check back for details.