Though the Lions enter the weekend outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture on goal differential, in terms of league-wide buzz, they’ve made more of a splash than just about any expansion club since the Sounders in 2009.

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The Seattle Sounders and Orlando City will meet for the first time as Major League Soccer teams on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field.

Behind the scenes, the clubs are more familiar. Seattle was one of Orlando coach Adrian Heath’s stops as he toured the league looking for pointers ahead of its inaugural season. Heath and Sounders assistant Brian Schmetzer go all the way back to the USL days, and Heath spent a few days in the city talking shop with Sigi Schmid.

“As a new expansion club, everybody looks at what Seattle did as a blueprint,” Heath said on Saturday at the team hotel downtown. “They were obviously very successful right out of the gate.”


Orlando City @ Sounders, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Orlando City hasn’t done too shabby itself. Though the Lions enter the weekend outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture on goal differential, in terms of league-wide buzz, they’ve made more of a splash than just about any expansion club since the Sounders in 2009.

Heath took Seattle’s blueprint and added some trial-and-error tweaks of his own. To explain Orlando City’s immediate success — and why you might catch a fleeting glimpse of Sounders teams past at CenturyLink on Sunday — here are some handy guidelines on How to Succeed in MLS.

Having a previous foundation helps

The similarities between the Lions and Sounders aren’t only due to their impressive attendance numbers and vibrant color schemes. They also both spent a previous life in the USL.

Whereas MLS’s other expansion side, New York City FC, was formed from the rib of Manchester City and built from the bottom up, Orlando City had both an existing infrastructure and a burgeoning fan base.

Though even Heath, who coached Orlando’s USL team for four seasons before making the jump with the club, has been a bit surprised at the sheer scale of the latter.

“I remember when the ownership, with the opening game, wanted 62,000 fans and wanted to fill the (Citrus Bowl),” Heath said. “I raised my eyebrows a little bit. I thought that might be a little bit optimistic. I thought we might get 50 (thousand).”

A sell-out crowd of 62,358 watched Orlando earn a last-second draw with New York City courtesy of Kaká’s stoppage time free kick. At nearly 33,000, OCSC ranks second only to the Sounders in average attendance.

Such is the local enthusiasm that the club announced midseason that it was expanding capacity for its new stadium set to open next year to between 25,000 and 28,000.

Build around the right star

With all the big money currently being splashed by the league on Designated Players, there have been some notable busts in the past — ask Portland about Kris Boyd.

There’s no polygraph test to tease out the Champions League winners who aren’t actually in it for one last payday. Not every style of play translates well to MLS, and not every personality can manage the tricky reality of making millions upon millions of dollars more than most teammates.

The signing of longtime U.S. national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller set the tone for the Sounders. An Olympia native, Keller was a link with the state’s rich soccer history. In Brazilian midfielder Kaká, Orlando City also chose the right guy.

“We couldn’t have picked a better representative of our club, on and off the field,” Heath said. “He’s a dream to work with.”

The 33-year-old, who Heath said will play on Sunday, has been especially vital in the locker room and as a role model for a roster among the youngest in MLS.

Depth matters

“We all think about that one through 11,” Heath said of his starting lineup. “Actually, the 12th through 20th picks on your roster are so important because of the way of the league.”

Heath said that, even after hearing all clichés and all the warnings from opposing coaches, the sheer physicality of MLS has surprised him.

“It’s a man’s league — experienced, battle-hardened, hard-nosed, chiseled defenders,” Heath said.

Injuries are a fact of life. The league’s unorthodox schedule, barreling right through international dates and the summer continental championships, further thins teams’ depth charts.

That’s actually been Heath’s biggest takeaway, he says, the thing he’d most stress to Atlanta United FC brass if they reach out to him in the coming seasons like he did to Schmid.

Get creative and be efficient with your roster spots

The sheer toll of the international tournaments has also taken Heath by surprise. This summer, it was the Gold Cup pulling away El Salvador captain Darwin Ceren and rising Canadian star Cyle Larin. World Cup qualifiers have been sprinkled in.

Another lesson: Heath would have looked harder and more skeptically at his international roster spots.

“CONCACAF, no disrespect, but it’s like they have a game every other week,” Heath said. “There could be an argument that you’re better off with the second-string Argentineans — that they’re more beneficial to you than Costa Rica’s best player. Because he’s gone every time.”

Ah, the things you learn in Year 1. Live and learn, and pass it forward. One day there will be a disoriented expansion-team coach on your doorstop, head spinning with roster rules and regulations and asking about South American work visa regulations.

“I was very appreciative of what (the Sounders) did for us,” Heath said. “They were very open, didn’t keep any secrets. Because it’s one of those things, until you actually go through it and do it, there’s not a trial run. Once you come out, you’re in.”