The atmosphere is always electric and the action intense when these two Southeast rivals come together, and that continues on Saturday night on national TV (8 pm ET | FOX/Deportes, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).
The bad blood has been present from the start, despite the fact that both clubs are relatively-recent arrivals to MLS with Orlando City joining in 2015, followed by Atlanta United two years later (2017).
Roots of the Rivalry
Orlando City's fiercely passionate supporters put soccer on the map in the Southeast of the United States, and Atlanta United raised the bar even higher to the tune of record-breaking attendances, an MLS Cup trophy and one of the best single seasons in MLS history in 2018.
Atlanta haven't been shy about it, announcing their presence with a billboard on I-4 (photo below) that set the tone for the dynamic of the rivalry before the first match between the two sides was ever played in 2017: "Orlando, we're coming to conquer."
It hasn't hurt that nearly every match between the two has been eventful and memorable.
That first-ever meeting had an ending that lived up to the billboard hype, with Hector "Tito" Villalba scoring a late road winner that also won the 2017 Goal of the Year award. Watch it below:
The series has also seen a see-saw 3-3 draw, a stoppage time equalizer (that man, Villalba, again) and Josef Martinez setting a new single-season goal-scoring mark in MLS. Martinez seems to enjoy inflicting damage on the Lions, scoring seven goals in six all-time regular season matchups.
That's on the field. There have also been several epic tifos that have heightened expectations for these meetings.
MLS Regular Season
Atlanta were the dominant side for the first three years of the rivalry, posting a 6W-0L-2D record against Orlando in league play over that span. But that all changed last week:
2020: Chris Mueller and Junior Urso each had a goal and an assist, and Orlando finally got their first victory over Atlanta 3-1 in the teams' first meeting of 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 29.
2018: Exploria Stadium became a home away from home for Atlanta United with 2-1 wins in both matchups at Exploria Stadium (May 13 and Aug. 24), sandwiching a 4-0 thumping at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (June 30) during a season in which Orlando fans had to endure witnessing an MLS Cup-winning run by the Five Stripes.
To add insult to injury, the August 24 match in Orlando saw Atlanta's Josef Martinez break the MLS single-season scoring record.
2017: The matchups were wild from the start. Villalba's 86th-minute Goal of the Year strike decided the first-ever match at Exploria Stadium (July 21) and Villalba did it again to Orlando just eight days later (July 29) with a stoppage-time equalizer at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
In a cracking third and final regular-season meeting in 2017, Orlando took the lead on three different occasions. But Atlanta forward Josef Martinez responded all three times with a hat trick in front of 70,425 fans during the third match ever played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Sept. 16).
U.S. Open Cup
Atlanta won the only U.S. Open Cup knockout match between the two sides: a professional 2-0 blanking of the Lions in a 2019 semifinal. The result allowed Atlanta United to advance and host the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They eventually won the title against Minnesota United.
Orlando City are now led by head coach Oscar Pareja, who steered the Lions to the MLS is Back Tournament Final earlier this summer and of course the Lions' first victory in the series in August. There's also some turnover for ATLUTD, with interim head coach Stephen Glass taking over after the club mutually parted ways with Frank de Boer.
As good as this matchup was over the first three seasons, perhaps the new blood — and maybe even a shift in balance of power? — will make things even more interesting.