Yesterday, Atlanta United put up a billboard at the corner of Washington and Garland advertising Friday's match saying, "Orlando, We're Coming to Conquer."
What the billboard should have said was "Orlando, please please be our rival."
Look, we get it. Atlanta is the league's fresh-faced kid at the playground with a lot of financial backing, they're only one spot ahead of Orlando in the standings, and it's easier to sell tickets if your fans have someone to hate – geographically, Orlando is a natural fit. Plus, Orlando City’s former general manager, Paul McDonough, is the director of soccer operations for Atlanta, and former Lions Mikey Ambrose, Bryan Róchez and Harrison Heath (the son of former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath) are on their roster.
But there's one major problem: It's hard for this to be a legit rivalry if Orlando SC has literally never played Atlanta. Ever.
Rivalries are vital to the MLS's entire expansion plans. They're important, and they're what keep casual fans coming back.
But just because Atlanta has some former personnel, and their roughly a 6 hour drive North, doesn't really make this a rivalry, regardless of what a big sign says in downtown Orlando. If geography does indeed play a part, then David Beckham's looming soccer team in Miami will be more of a likely rival.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, head coach Jason Kreis said earlier this week that rivalries are something that require history, not just close geographic proximity. He might be on to something.
While founded in 2013, Orlando SC is still a relatively young club and even so, arguably has more relevant budding rivalries that don't require pleading billboards. Last year, Orlando SC put out a poll during rivalry week asking fans to weigh in on who they thought the team's rival should be. The results listed (in order) were Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, Montreal Impact and D.C. United.
At the moment, I would argue Orlando's relationship with New York City FC is the closest thing we have to a rivalry, especially when you consider just last March fans from FC ripped chairs out of the stadium and fought cops in the street.
Even Orlando's head coach Kries was booted from NYCFC after its first year for not making the playoffs.
This feels a bit more like a rivalry to me than a big dumb billboard. But who knows, maybe this is just the start of a long and bitter relationship with Atlanta.
For now, the Iron Lion Firm's Twitter account sums up our collective feelings best...
What boring memes do Atlanta United fans have for us today? pic.twitter.com/eKaWAddKdq— Iron Lion Firm (@IronLionFirm) July 18, 2017