So, before Saturday evening’s Atlanta United-Orlando City match I posed these questions of the local soccer-philes:
Do they lower themselves to the level of those Orlando people who spent part of last Friday’s game in Florida chanting a loud, stadium-wide F-based obscenity toward Atlanta? Do they, like the Orlando fans, turn a sporting event into a sweaty, R-rated sing-along, that is neither original nor clever?
Or, do they choose the higher road less taken, stick with their more family-friendly menu of chants and cheers, which has made an Atlanta United game one of the best sporting scenes in town?
The answer: Just one minute into Saturday, the fanatics in the north endzone at Bobby Dodd unveiled their own F-sharp chorus. Did it again in the second half. Guess that really showed Orlando.
Didn’t really catch on throughout the stadium, though. More a token effort, just to prove they had that warped arrow in their quiver should it be required.
For the final Atlanta United Game at Bobby Dodd the tone in the stands remained more weighted toward the pro-Atlanta than the anti-Orlando. There was a definite edge to the interplay between the opposing fans as they were leaving the place, but no blood seemed to be spilled. That’s a big plus when considering soccer rivalries, be they budding or established.
The 1-1 draw Saturday, saved by a dramatic goal in injury time, the 92nd minute, by Atlanta United’s Tito Villalba allowed everyone to leave sort of happy. Villalba’s goal was not quite Lance Austin’s touchdown return of a blocked field goal to beat Florida State on this same field (2015). But it was at least a nice finishing flourish nonetheless.
Ties in soccer are not exactly bad things, you see. “This was a well-earned point for us,” Atlanta United Michael Parkhurst said. “And two points taken away from them (Orlando was looking at three points in the standings for the win, until Villalba struck).
United ended with a very robust 6-2-1 record at Georgia Tech’s place. Moving to Mercedes-Benz Stadium comes fraught with the kind of wistfulness that follows checking out of a sweet vacation resort.
“I’m going to miss it,” said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “I’m going to miss the grass. I’m going to miss the sun.”
Whatever the silliness in the seats, the games themselves have been enough to recommend Atlanta-Orlando as potentially a series with a little snarl. Both have been close, both played with an urgency that reflected their importance in the standings. And, now, one player – Villalba – has become as conveniently unpopular in that part of Florida as the citrus canker.
And just enough yellow cards were issued Saturday to attest to a physical game. These players might grow to resent one another, which is far more important than the relationships up among the aerobically-challenged in the stands.
As difficult as it is to dislike Orlando – maybe not so much for the parents whose bank account has been gnawed to the bone by Mickey Mouse – we just may have to get serious about it in a season or three.