Orlando City SC admit first game vs. Atlanta United stoked rivalry fires

Miguel Almiron - Scott Sutter - Atlanta United - Orlando City

ORLANDO, Fla. – Whisper it quietly, but the idea of a “rivalry” game between Orlando City SC and Atlanta United might just have taken seed, at least at the Orlando end of the equation, ahead of Saturday’s rematch at Bobby Dodd Stadium (4:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes in US | MLS LIVE in Canada).

Prior to last Friday’s first meeting of the Central Florida outfit and the league newcomers – which went 1-0 to Atlanta thanks to a stunning Hector Villalba goal – both head coaches played down the idea that it was a game with any extra edge.

This week, not so much. With the Lions licking their wounds from the loss of three home points and sitting below the playoff line, both head coach Jason Kreis and striker Cyle Larin insisted there was more at stake this time around.

Rivalry may still be too strong a word for it, but there’s certainly a sense of needing to right some wrongs and change the narrative from Orlando’s perspective.

“[Playing back-to-back] is not my favorite situation because I just feel, for the competitive balance of the season, it is not ideal,” Kreis explained. “But at this moment right now, after the performance we had and feeling hard done by the result, I would say this is the right time for this game. I’m happy about it.

“Any time you play the same opponent twice, you often see in the second game that there’s a bit more to it. Because we felt our performance warranted more than it got, we go into this game with the feeling we need to gain something back.”

Larin felt motivated enough for the first game to rush back from Phoenix, Ariz., having played the night before for Canada in the Gold Cup. He returned just in time to take a place on the bench. And, although he wasn’t able to make a significant impact, his 21 minutes on the field was enough to stoke the competitive spirit.

Asked if this now felt more like a genuine rivalry, Larin insisted, “Yeah it does. I think it was actually a great game. There were some rough tackles and everyone was getting after it. I think the amount of crowd they brought to Orlando [added to it], and I think we’ll bring the same, or more, to Atlanta, so I think it will be a good game.

“We also know how they play now. It’s the second time around so we know what we have to do. We’re working in training to keep moving the ball, and moving it quicker to get in good spots, and find a way to get more players in the box. If we occupy the defenders and get more people in the box, people will get open.”

As well as the extra spice of playing their closest geographical rival, Orlando are well aware of their league position, and the need to improve it.

“Early in the season, I would say we’re not even looking [at the standings],” Kreis added. “But, where we’re at right now, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. You see we’ve only got 13 games remaining, and it is time to recognize that our backs are against the wall. We need a reaction right now.”