MLS may return, what does it mean for Atlanta United and the rest of the league?

Illustration by Roe | The Signal

Following the break due to COVID-19, Major League Soccer is heading to Orlando in a tournament format. For Atlanta United FC, this puts the team in what some may refer to as “the belly of the beast,” as the Five Stripes hold a long-lasting rivalry with Orlando City SC.

UFC legend and mixed martial artist Daniel Cormier once said, “If he wins both fights, there is no rivalry.” 

While Cormier may not have been referring to Atlanta United star Josef Martinez and his wins against the Orlando City SC defenders, the sentiment holds true for the Atlanta-Orlando rivalry as the Five Stripes hold a dominating 6-0-2 record. 

It does, however, seem like a matter of time before Orlando finds themselves beating Atlanta, something Atlanta United commentator Jason Longshore thinks will be a defining moment for the club.

“Orlando City would love nothing more than to beat Atlanta,” Longshore said. “When it happens, it’s gonna be one of the most special wins Orlando City has ever had. It’s going to go down in their history.”

Despite the lopsided nature of the two teams’ meetings, there remains a level of animosity and bitterness that continues to flourish, which subsequently creates some exhilarating moments. 

Here are the top five moments in the Atlanta United-Orlando City rivalry.

  1. August 6, 2019, Exploria Stadium: Atlanta 2-0 Orlando

Atlanta played the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup in Orlando, winning 2-0. The game remained close for much of the night, but Atlanta capitalized late in the match, giving the club a two-goal lead and permanently cementing the victory. 

“It’s a different competition. It was a game where the expectations for Orlando were actually pretty high,” Longshore said. “I think it was a huge performance from Atlanta United because Josef Martinez picked up a knock in training the day before and didn’t play. Atlanta had to piece together an attack … It was a really impressive performance.” 

Atlanta would go on to win the Open Cup title a few weeks later.

  1. June 30, 2018, Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Atlanta 4-0 Orlando

In Atlanta’s most dominating win against Orlando, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez showed their true power as one of the most dynamic duos in all of MLS. It took Martinez all of three minutes into the match to find the back of the net, with Almiron tacking on two more goals later in the game. Atlanta put on their best performance against Orlando in front of a record-breaking crowd, cementing their legacy in the series.

  1. September 16, 2017, Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Atlanta 3-3 Orlando

While Atlanta was not able to come away with the victory, the team put on a thrilling performance in front of a record number of fans during one of the first games away from Bobby Dodd Stadium. Orlando gave up no opportunities, scoring three times on the day and beating goalkeeper Brad Guzan with several well-placed headers. However, each time that Orlando scored, Josef Martinez rebutted with a goal of his own, giving the Venezuelan his second hat trick in two games.

  1. August 24, 2018, Exploria Stadium: Atlanta 2-1 Orlando

In a game that remained tied through the 70th minute, Atlanta was able to break away quickly and catch Orlando’s defenders on their heels. Martinez, in typical fashion, received a pass and dazzled his way past goalkeeper Joe Bendik before floating the ball into the net for his 28th goal of the year. The 28th goal was good enough to break the single-season goal-scoring record at the time, and Martinez was not quite finished as he completed the year with 31 goals.

  1. July 21, 2017, Exploria Stadium: Atlanta 1-0 Orlando

Every rivalry has its starting point, and this very well may have been the exact moment tension formed between the clubs. 

“It was a tight game that had a goal that will go down in history.” Longshore said about the game-winning goal scored by Hector “Tito” Villaba. 

Tied 0-0 for the majority of the match, Atlanta found the back of the net in the dying moments of the game as Villaba rocketed a goal into the far right corner of the net. The goal would be good enough to give Atlanta the win and Villaba the 2017 MLS goal of the year.

The Atlanta United-Orlando City rivalry has been one of the best in all of MLS, and with new teams joining the league each year, there are certainly more rivalries to come. For now, Atlanta holds the dominating grasp on the series, making each match all the more exciting.