Orlando Loses its Matchmaker in Watson

A final thought on the departure of Jamie Watson
by Chris Kimball   |   Thursday, March 06, 2014

Purple Pride – column on Orlando City SC (OCSC) & the Orlando & Central Florida area soccer scene.

On Feb. 20, Orlando City announced that midfielder Jamie Watson was leaving the team to join Minnesota United of the NASL. Instead of struggling to find playing time this season – the club had signed several promising midfielders – Watson and the team decided to cut ties. It's a familiar scenario that occurs daily in sports.

Nonetheless, the move stunned the Lions' faithful.

Watson was the face of the franchise. He arrived in Orlando in 2010, when the Aztex migrated from Austin, Texas, to become Orlando City SC. During his 3 years in Orlando, Watson was a team leader and solid performer on the field, amassing 4,513 minutes in 63 games, and scoring 23 goals.

Even more impressive was his performance off the field. He proved to be the ideal interlocutor between a team fighting for a following, and a city still developing a taste for the game. Jamie's enthusiasm immediately rubbed off on the fans. He naturally assumed the role of effervescent ambassador, shepherding the team through its awkward adolescence.

"He always made it a point to let the fans know how much they were appreciated," recounts Xander Rich, a Ruckus member and Capo. "He went on our bus when we traveled to Charleston just to thank us for the away support, and you could tell it was heartfelt."

When asked about his role developing a nascent soccer culture in Orlando, Watson was characteristically humble. "I committed myself to the club," he said, as though it were nothing. "I was always eager to help in any way I could. I invested myself wholeheartedly to the cause."

His investment paid off. Incredibly, in just 3 years, the goal that even Watson admits seemed "ambitious" at the time, reaching MLS, came to fruition.

Then, Watson became a victim of his own success. Had soccer culture not permeated so quickly, the team probably would not have been able to let Watson leave. But with entry into MLS the equation changed. The organization had just 12 months to build am MLS-ready club. They had to make the difficult decision.

In fairness, letting Watson go showed great maturity on the part of Orlando City's front office. Even the most diehard supporters recognize that having the strength of conviction to make objective decisions about players, especially the most beloved ones, bodes well for the future success of the club.

"We all know soccer is a performance based sport," Richsaid, "and no doubt, we think Jamie's a MLS-caliber player and we wanted to see him make the leap with us. But the timing didn't add up."

Watson leaves Orlando with no regrets.

"In hindsight I wouldn't have done anything differently," he reiterates.

He also doesn't leave empty-handed.

"Without the club moving to Orlando, I would never have met my fiancé, Caley. So I'm very happy that happened, obviously!"

It turns out Watson and the city of Orlando have a lot in common. Neither one is the biggest or the flashiest. But both are naturally welcoming, with big hearts and unbridled passion.

So, not surprisingly, when Watson was asked what makes Orlando unique as a soccer city, his response could just as easily be a description of himself:

"I think it's the 'young at heart' mentality that most people have [here]. ... It's contagious."

Indeed it is.

In March 2015, when Orlando City celebrates its first game in Major League Soccer, one can only hope that the organization will have the good sense to invite Watson back to celebrate, if only for that day, with the team and the city he helped bring together.

NEXT UP: March 8 – Orlando City vs. Florida International, Seminole Soccer Complex, Lake Mary, Fla. 3 p.m. EST.

Chris KIMBALL

Nationality:
USA
College:
William & Mary
Club Domestic:
Orlando City
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Christopher is editor of Orlando Soccer Daily, covering the beautiful game for central Florida. A retired music exec turned soccer fanatic, he landed in Florida via Paris & Boston. When not working he's usually chasing after his 2 sons or suffering after
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