"I think we've sent a message that we're MLS ready!" shouted Phil Rawlins in the immediate aftermath of Orlando City's startling 7-4 USL Pro League championship victory over Charlotte.
The City president was still bathed in the sweat of a steamy Florida evening and the champagne of a second victory in three years in the raucous, flare-tinged Fifth Third Bank Field at the Citrus Bowl, the venue usually reserved for football rather than soccer.
He had every right to feel jubilant, as the events of the previous two hours had just exceeded the team's expectations by a factor of roughly Enormous + A Lot.
Orlando City are vying to be the next franchise elevated to the MLS ranks from the humble third tier of the USA's professional teams. They are awaiting a county commission vote later this week on approval of a new stadium deal involving tourist tax dollars, which has the full backing of the city and county mayors.
It is not quite a done deal, hence the club was hoping to underline their credentials with an eye-catching turnout at the cavernous, 65,438-seat Citrus Bowl. Prior to the championship game, they staged a massive social media campaign to boost attendance, bidding for a record 15,000 turnout and using the hashtag #Mission15K on Twitter.
Tickets were offered at a bargain $15, with a $3 discount for those bought online. In many ways, actually winning the game became secondary – although that shouldn't be mentioned within earshot of head coach Adrian Heath, the former Everton and Stoke City striker, who has devoted the last five years of his life to building an MLS-worthy team.
In truth, having drawn 11,220 for the memorable 2011 title victory, on penalties, against Harrisburg, anything over that figure would have been satisfactory. However, on the afternoon of the game, the club announced they were now selling tickets for the upper bowl of the stadium for a soccer game for the first time since the 1994 World Cup rolled into town.
Suddenly, the 15,000 figure seemed less pie in the sky and more here's mud in your eye. When the official announced attendance turned out to be 20,866 – more than all but Seattle's of the MLS fixtures played the same night – it created the biggest cheer of the night, one that will surely reverberate around the halls of the county commissioners all week.
City's Citrus Bowl turnout had been a figure of contention during the week, when some city officials had queried their 8,000 average home attendance and the announced crowd of 8,912 for the semi-final victory a week earlier when the official turnstile count was 6,731.
The club argued that, like most professional teams, their count is different because it includes other entrances than the main turnstiles, as those entering via the official Fan Zone and those with premium tickets have a separate entryway. Speaking in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, team executive Brett Lashbrook insisted: "We have tried to be as accurate and honest as we can. I think it's in line with the industry practice, and in fact it's more honest than other leagues. We are confident our official attendance figures are an accurate and honest portrayal of the number of people attending our matches."
Saturday night put any argument firmly to rest. Despite being less than a third of total capacity, the Citrus Bowl positively rocked as it was treated to an unexpected goal feast from two teams usually renowned for their defensive prowess, and there could be no doubting the 20,866 figure as the lower bowl, holding 15,900, was completely full and there were clearly thousands more in the level above them.
No wonder Rawlins was beaming afterwards. He added:
"I think it is a night that people will remember forever and it just shows the strength of the market and the appetite for soccer here in central Florida. It's not as if it was fans turning up to watch Newcastle or Fluminense or another star team. It was 20,000 turning up to watch Orlando City.
"We've set ourselves up as a professional organisation, even if this is still a minor level, and we're definitely ready to take the next step. Our fans our unbelievable and have a real passion for this team. And, once we go up to MLS level, I think we will see this kind of success there as well."
For Heath, there was a slight sense of bewilderment mixed in with the euphoria and a little bit of relief that the league's big dogs had fulfilled their half of the on-field bargain.
"It's a little bit surreal because I've never been involved in an 11-goal game in my life, not even one where we scored seven. And to play in front of more than 20,000 was amazing. I've been up to Portland where they regularly get big crowds and to hear 25,000 screaming from the rafters is something you're envious of. Well, we equalled that tonight."
Victory came with a tinge of controversy as no less than four of City's goals were provided by Dom Dwyer, who wasn't on the roster for either of their two previous play-off games. In fact, little more than a week earlier, the prolific striker had been playing for Sporting Kansas City in their Confederations Cup win over CD Olimpia.
Dwyer had started the season in Orlando, on loan from the MLS club, and had bagged a record-equalling 15 goals in 13 games before he was recalled to the senior team at the end of June. In his absence, the Lions struggled for fire-power until Chinese-born forward Long Tan stepped up to fill the void in the play-offs with three outstanding goals – and was then banned for the final after a late red-card in the semi-final win over Charleston.
In desperation, Heath called up his Kansas City counterpart Peter Vermes and asked if Dwyer could make a one-game re-appearance. Surprisingly, Vermes agreed, even though his team had a vital home game with Columbus for top spot in the Eastern Conference and were already without four players on international duty and minus striker Kei Kamara, newly sold to Middlesbrough in the Championship in England.
Vermes insisted: "Dom spent a good portion of the year in Orlando. We're very respectful of our partnership with them and we felt it was important we provided them every opportunity out of the partnership that we agreed to."
Which was all bad news for Charlotte Eagles, who were already facing the tallest of orders, on the road to the loudest team in the league, even though they had already knocked off top seeds Richmond. Graciously, they said nothing about the game apparently being loaded against them, and they gave their small band of travelling fans hope of another upset as they took the lead after 20 minutes, equalised just before half-time to make it 2-2 following Dwyer's first brace, and then had the audacity to go in front again early in the second period.
That was when Orlando finally imposed their superior attacking prowess and simply overwhelmed the visitors with three goals in the space of eight minutes, with two more from Dwyer and one from local product Dennis Chin. Senegalese midfielder Adama Mbengue made it 6-3 in the 83rd minute and even when the Eagles made one final defiant riposte, Chin capped off the 11-goal explosion in fine individual style moments later.
It all served as a complete football feast for the USL Pro league's highest-ever attendance – and serves notice Orlando will have some considerable backing when/if they join Sporting KC at their own level. When it is unlikely Vermes will be doing them any more favours.