From the moment Atlanta United arrived at the MLS stage we have been told Orlando is our Rival. In context to our inaugural season in 2017, it looked like it could be a good rivalry going 1-2-0 (2 Draws) in the games against our I-75 counterparts. However, missing from the games was the ingrained hate that comes along with a rivalry. Obviously, winning is important but I always want to win every game so this series wasn’t really much different from our other opponents.
Further examination on the foundation of an Atlanta/Orlando rivalry, its hard to find any true history for where this came from. Orlando is an odd big city is professional sports where it’s Basketball and Soccer (Much like Portland). They’ve had semi-pro football teams and is home to spring training in baseball (Atlanta being the main team for years) but there isn’t much athletic history between the 2 cities to draw from.
People can look to Georgia/Florida as the rival from a college football standpoint but 1.) The University of Florida is located in Gainesville, Florida and they play UGA in Jacksonville every year and 2.) UCF is Orlando’s team and they just recently became part of the national conversation. Also, with the fan base soccer brings, trying to pull from college football seems like a mute point because the fan base could probably care less about college football.
To go back to the records, after the year 1 results, we’ve beaten Orlando 4 straight times with an aggregate score of 9-2 (14-6 in the series). We’ve never met in the playoffs, we’ve never lost to them, and we’ve never sat at home during the playoffs and watched them on TV. We’ve had some close games with them but they’ve never been more than a team we play 3 times in the regular season. Overall Series Record: 5-2-0
Obviously, things can change with time and our history is still quite short together but I just can’t help think we have better rivals which have came naturally through the brief couple of years we’ve played. This would include teams that we just can’t seem to beat, losses that directly influence on our season, or teams we just can’t stand.
The first and most recent rival would be the team we just lost to after they played the 2nd half with 10 men.
New York Red Bulls
This rivalry goes back to the very beginning. It all started at Bobby Dodd on a chilly Sunday Night. The very first Atlanta United MLS match. The stadium was packed (a sign of things to come), the people were rowdy, standing, and chanting the whole time, and the excitement was about as great as the lines for concessions and bathrooms. Once Asad scored on a Mears assist to tie things up 1-1 we started to believe. Josef Martinez had many opportunities but couldn’t hit the back of the net and we would go on to lose 2-1.
Following our defeat at home we would go 0-1-2 against them in the coming games, posting an aggregate of 2-7 over the first 4 games until we met again in the Eastern Conference Finals. Once we scored 3-0 at home we had to go on the road and complete the aggregate to advance to the championship. There was a LOT of trash talk back and forth between our 2 sides and the regular season hump has still yet to get crossed by us as we allowed a goal in the 2nd half with the Red Bulls down a man and would go on to lose yesterday to our main foe. Add in the loss of the Supporter’s Shield last season and the Red Bulls are our #1 Rival. Overall Series Record: 0-1-4 (1-1-5 in all competitions)
Foes that Directly Influenced our Season
When it comes to hate or disdain for an opponent, one way feelings can build is to have an outcome completely derail from a season goal. Here are the teams that have done this to date:
Columbus Crew – Our inaugural season came to a end when we got to host the Crew at Mercedes Benz Stadium in the knockout round of the playoffs. We went back and forth and Parkhurst had one of the best game saving plays of the season but ultimately our fate would come down to PKs, the furthest step we could’ve possibly gone. Villalba scored our only PK and we were eliminated from the playoffs. It was a slight disappointment yet still a great start for the franchise and the momentum we would later ride to a championship last year.
Outside of knocking us out of the playoffs and 2 Carolina Cup defeats, we’ve basically dominated them, minus the rain soaked game we lost earlier this season 0-2. We’ve outscored them 10-4 in our 5 regular season games which kind of makes them beating us in 2017 a little more distasteful. Needless to say, I hope we meet in the playoffs again for personal reasons. Also, the absence of Greg Garza really played a underrated factor in that game. Overall Series Record: 4-0-1 (4-0-4 in all competitions)
Toronto FC – Up until the final game of the 2018 season we only played in 2-2 draws against our Canadian rivals. Toronto’s been one of the better MLS teams in recent years so drawing 2-2 seemed to put us on similar playing fields. That was until October 28th, 2018, the final game of the regular season. Atlanta United sat at the top of the standings for months. After dropping a game to the Red Bulls 3 weeks prior (see above), we had to beat a 9-6-18 Toronto team coming off a 3 game losing streak and disaster of a season.
Not only did we lose, the game wasn’t even close. We fell 4-1 up north and finish 2nd to the Red Bulls in the supporter shield, a race we led practically the entire season. In many ways it was similar to how Liverpool was overtaken by Manchester City in this year’s Premier League. Heading into the 2019 season and we still didn’t have a win against Toronto. We finally evened the series at 1-3-1 May 8th this year beating them 2-0, but the bad taste from last season’s finale lingers on. Overall Series Record: 1-3-1
Chicago Fire – This series isn’t as intense as the above 3. We’ve beaten them 3 out of 4 games during the regular season on an aggregate of 8-4 (We play again June 1st). They are here for one reason and one reason only, the U.S. Open Cup. I don’t really look at the 2017 U.S. Open Cup with any disdain as we were still young and new as a team and franchise but the 2018 Cup was ours. We were one of the best teams in the MLS playing arguably our worst soccer of the season.
On Cinco De Mayo we went on the road and beat Chicago 2-1. The win improved our record to 6-1-1. From that moment until we faced Chicago in the Open Cup, we would go 3-2-2 not including the Charleston match. We thought we’d win for sure. Social media people were projecting ahead and the consensus was in favor of a United victory. Chicago had other plans, keeping us off the board and upsetting us at home 1-0. I would be more upset at this game however it was the only time I actually got to meet Miguel Almiron under the tunnel after the game, a very cool moment for me personally. Sidenote: He’s a really nice guy. Overall Series Record: 3-0-1 (3-0-2 with Open Cup)
Thorn in our side rival
The final team worth mentioning is a team we struggle against throughout the regular season and a team that is our pesky opponent that everyone seems to have. We have common foes against one another in other sports and so this team has a special place in Atlanta United faithful as a team we just want to beat when we play them.
D.C. United – Minus the “United” connection, D.C. have produced some of the toughest matches to date. They lead the series 5-0-2 after sweeping us all 3 games our inaugural season. We started our current year off this season with an 0-2 loss in D.C. They have 4 MLS Championships and are 2nd to only LA Galaxy for most Cup Victories all-time. We are the new kids on the block with a championship within our first 2 years and we look to join the elite franchises of the MLS one day. Only time can allow us the opportunity, however, we have to start beating the best if we want to be considered the best. Our aggregate is 9-13 so far with our next opportunity coming July 21st. Maybe we can meet in the playoffs this year to add some value to the rivalry. Overall Series Record: 5-0-2
In order to have a great rivalry we need more than a one-sided artificial rivalry concocted by the MLS. Once Miami gets on the scene, Orlando will have a much more natural rival and Nashville might grow into our more natural “Southern” rival as our neighbors to the north. Either way, until Orlando beats us or produces heartbreak into our souls, we’ll have these other teams to lean on for rivalries. Though I do like beating Orlando every chance we get, which is still pretty fun.
*Season records and game stats can be found at Wikipedia.com and MLS.com