Atlanta United billboard in Orlando - July 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rivalry? What rivalry?

Yes, Orlando City SC gets to play another MLS team in a neighboring state for the first time since they joined the league (Friday at 7 pm ET on ESPN and ESPN Deportes in USA; TSN in Canada).

But don’t try to convince head coach Jason Kreis just yet that playing Atlanta United on Friday has special significance, even while both sets of fans have been sparring on social media, and Atlanta purchased an Orlando-area billboard proclaiming, “Orlando, we’re coming to conquer.”

On that last one, consider Kreis unimpressed.

“I hadn’t seen the billboard. I had no idea about that,” he insisted. “It seems a very odd thing. I am one that believes rivalries are intrinsic, meaning they happen through experiences. It would be premature to talk about whether or not they are our rival. We’ll see, starting with the first 15 minutes of the match on Friday, and we will go from there to decide if they’re our rivals or not.”

The former Real Salt Lake boss said his coaching duels with the Colorado Rapids and the Dallas-Chicago matches from his playing days were rivalries that developed organically.

Kreis also cautioned that, despite whatever digital banter has been occurring in cyberspace, there needs to be a standard of respect observed by the local partisans at Orlando City Stadium, as well as any away support.

“There is a line, and there should always be a line,” he explained. “At the end of the day this is still a sport. This is not life or death, this is not war, so we need to treat it that way. We certainly give everything we can towards our jobs. There is zero doubt about that. Often times I feel like I’d give my life for the job, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t. I hope fans feel the same and can respect that.”

Defender Jonathan Spector admitted there would be an extra edge to Friday’s game for him, thought he was equally indifferent to Atlanta’s ‘billboard challenge.’

“Yeah, it’s an important game, but not for what’s going on in social media,” he insisted. “I don’t really care, to be honest. It’s important for us because they’re one point above us and we’re both fighting for a playoff spot. That’s what it makes it important, not what they want to put up on I-4 on some stupid billboard. That’s irrelevant to me.

Kreis admits Atlanta are a “dangerous, dynamic, attacking team” on their current run of four wins in five games and as the league’s top scorers, and he has been impressed by head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

“For me, what’s more important than what he’s done before is what he’s doing right now,” Kreis explained. “He’s doing a fantastic job, but it’s not about where you’ve coached before. I don’t think it’s more or less interesting to go out and get coaches that have coached big clubs before, it’s just about coaches who can do a good job in this league. And he seems to be one that can.”

However, the Lions coach refuses to accept that United should be judged as an expansion success yet, even as they sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference entering Week 20.

“I think we’re all playing a little bit victim to the way Atlanta has done so far,” Kreis said. “Our job is not done and their job is not done, so I don’t think the judging should be now.”

Kreis was also able to reflect on his first year in Orlando with some satisfaction, albeit that the next few months will have a major say on any official verdict.

“We couldn’t be happier with our lives outside the job,” Kreis said. “Inside, it has been really good. Has it been great? No. Would I have liked it to have been a little bit better? Yes, if we’re talking strictly about results. But we can still say we’re in a positive place and the team has improved. We still have a lot in front of us and believe very strongly we can attain our goals.”

UPDATE (July 21): WFTV in Orlando reports that the billboard was taken down on Thursday, which happened as scheduled, per both clubs. However, there are conflicting reports as to whether the billboard was vandalized before it was taken down.