Atlanta United and Orlando City always give an exciting show to watch for fans, but perhaps MLS is facing the death of a rivalry. Here’s why.
The matchup between Atlanta United and Orlando City has certainly provided some sparks in its short-lived history. Whether it be Hector “Tito” Villalba’s screamer or Josef Martinez breaking the goal-scoring record, fans of the two teams have had plenty to watch in only six matches. However, with MLS consistently changing with expansion teams and transfers, fans must ask themselves, what’s next in this rivalry?
Many may argue the usage of the term ‘rivalry’ as fans across both clubs claim different rivals across the league. However, the matchup has provided interesting moments for all of MLS to witness in only two years.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the rivalry is the newest emergence of a MLS team in the south, Nashville SC. The new club was announced on December 20, 2017, and was previously expected to take the field to begin the 2019 MLS season but will more than likely join the league in 2020. Although Music City will have to wait a year later for MLS, Atlanta fans are already chomping at the bit for a more local rival.
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The matchup between the Five Stripes and the Six Strings has already begun, as Atlanta United began their 2018 preseason campaign with a 3-1 victory on the road against Nashville, who was gearing up for their inaugural season in USL. The Atlanta faithful was quick to make their presence felt by helping sell out First Tennessee Park for Nashville SC’s first-ever game, regardless of the weather forecast.
Despite Orlando being Atlanta’s closest MLS opponent, the trip down south to Orlando is not an easy task to ask of from supporters. The six-hour drive serves as a potential reason for fans not to attend the match. However, given the close proximity of Nashville, the new matchup will surely provide supporters from both clubs with more than enough reasons to make the trip.
Besides Nashville SC joining the league, there is another expansion team that is sure to cause the Atlanta-Orlando matchup to possibly lose significance. Joining MLS in 2020 will be the team from Miami, owned by David Beckham.
Similar to Nashville-Atlanta, the matchup between the two Florida clubs will be a much more realistic away trip for supporters to make. Rather than making the long commute North, the Orlando faithful’s trip will almost be cut in half when traveling to Miami.
The potential rivalry between Orlando and Miami serves as the only realistic chance the newest Florida club has at a rivalry. Due to Miami being located so far south of the United States, Beckham’s club seemingly has no other city to take on as a rival.
Although MLS expanding may cause the rivalry to change shape, the transfer of players will surely have an impact on the product on the field for the two clubs. Perhaps the biggest transfer for both teams is Atlanta midfielder Miguel Almirón. The Paraguayan midfielder has vocally expressed his interest to take his talents to Europe as soon as possible. Although he is not known as the ‘Lion Tamer’ by Atlanta supporters, Almirón has had his fair share of impact on the matchup.
In the six matchups, Almirón has contributed two goals while consistently giving the Orlando defense something to worry about in attack. However, Almirón is not the only Atlanta United player drawing some transfer attention. Teenage sensation Ezequiel Barco is expected to quickly end his stay in Major League soccer and also continue his playing career in Europe.
The departure of two very talented and vital players for the Five Stripes make fans of both clubs ask the same question: Will Orlando actually beat Atlanta?
The meetings between the two teams have consistently shown Atlanta’s dominance over their southern counterpart, as United is yet to lose. It may be realistic that the Orlando faithful will someday have the edge over their neighbors to the North, or Atlanta will continue to be the Kings of the South.
The two teams have given fans plenty of reasons for excitement, but perhaps it will be the rivalry the league will never see.