The tifo from the Atlanta supporters-group section proclaimed the Five Stripes the “Kings of the South.” The team pulled out all the stops by inviting Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield — the former heavyweight champion and an Atlanta sports legend — to hammer in the ceremonial Golden Spike. And with the upper seating open at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, nearly 72,000 fans were able to watch ATLUTD face off against the Lions for the fifth time.
We bear the crown 👑— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 30, 2018
Kings of the South. pic.twitter.com/A8ulFhI1YI
“I don’t know if it’s a rivalry or not,” said Atlanta’s Michael Parkhurst following his team’s dominant 4-0 win on Saturday. “The fans love it, they’re into it. I thought tonight was probably the loudest I’ve heard the stadium.”
While this matchup remains an important date on the calendar for supporters of both clubs, the derby between these Southern counterparts remains largely one-sided. Atlanta have yet to lose against Orlando, having taken 11 out of 15 possible points from the Florida club. This calls into question whether it’s truly a rivalry on par with the likes of the Cascadia Cup or the California Clasico.
Atlanta midfielder Jeff Larentowicz reminded the media that the matches have all been hard-fought, and although Orlando haven’t had much success, this was the first time Atlanta dominated play from start to finish.
Larentowicz pointed to his team’s thrilling last game in Bobby Dodd Stadium last year, in which Hector “Tito” Villalba scored the tying goal against Orlando in stoppage time, as a match that “kind of cements a rivalry and has continued into this year.”
“It’s certainly a tough matchup,” he said. “It has been for a few years. They’ve always been somewhat exciting games, I think.”
Added goalkeeper Brad Guzan: “People will say that it is a big rival and this and that, but for us, we know what it means to the fans. We know how important this game is in terms of being a conference game.”
The teams will face off for the third time this season in Orlando on August 24. With that match, the Lions will try to hit the rivalry reset button under new manager James O’Connor.
“Everybody just wants to get through this time,” said Bobby Murphy, who coached the Lions after Kreis' departure up until Monday. “We all want to get to the other side – whatever that looks like. Hopefully, James can come in and with a new set of eyes look at things differently. Hopefully, he can push them through.”
Orlando’s players hope to use that late-summer match against Atlanta as an important benchmark for the progress they can make under new leadership.
“It’s not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of this hole, but we’ve got to do it one game at a time,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan. “I think everybody is excited to have a new coach. Everyone’s got to prove themselves to him.”