With Atlanta United coming to Major League Soccer next year, Orlando City finally has the rival it deserves. Not to take away from the ill feelings the men in purple share for the Columbus Crew, but I for one am much happier with a regional rival entering the league that can really stoke the flames of passion for the fans.
The main problem with Columbus and even Orlando City’s sister newbie team, NYCFC, is distance. Great rivalries generally start with two teams that are close and have overlapping fan bases. With Atlanta only being an eight-hour drive and just a short flight from Orlando, the fans in the region will soon be divided amongst the two pro teams. Who will people in northern Florida and Southern Georgia root for? Which team can stake more of a claim to that middle ground?
For scientific sake, let's look at two of the perfect regional rivalries in college to accentuate the point. On the football field you have Ohio State and Michigan and over in basketball you have Duke and North Carolina. These two rivalries perfectly play the parts of my points in the paragraph above. They are close enough to each other that they always know what the other is up to. And their fan bases are so close to each other that year-round trash talk ensues, no matter the season!
With the fans sorted out and the regional implications taken care of, there's another factor that makes this rivalry a tad unique. For Orlando City and Atlanta United, along with those important regional bragging rights, will come the fact both came into MLS within a short time -- a two-year difference. Who will win a championship first? Will Atlanta grow faster than Orlando did? All of this could add to the pot that will really tick off Orlando's fan base.
On the flip side, the opposite could happen. Orlando City could big brother Atlanta from the get go. After all, the team has had two more years of MLS experience and, honestly, if the Lions don't assert themselves now as the dominant southern soccer team, when can they? If that happens, man the fans of Atlanta will be full of venom and circle the dates Orlando City plays their boys every year.
One last thing a solid rival gives you is a sense of accomplishment. You can’t tell me that the fans of teams having down years don’t relish the chance to stick it to their rivals whenever they can. Hey, my team may have missed the playoffs, but we beat you every time we played this year. Yep, superiority is key. Yeah, most of us don’t like Columbus after playing them so many times last year and the hostility that came from it. And beating NYCFC a few weeks ago felt really good. Let me tell you, that will soon fade as putting a proper beat down on that team up north will take over and become the derby we’ll pay the most attention to.
So in closing, welcome to Major League Soccer, Atlanta United. I don't like you and my friend doesn't like you either!