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I was in the emergency room watching The Bachelorette the other night and mixed in-between the talking heads of “Tom B.”, a sales manager from St. Louis complaining about the very undope actions of “Brian W.”, a sales manager from Durham, I noticed a recurring theme: the “I could if I wanted to” shot.
There’s an art to collecting, editing and presenting these shots, and they’re core to the nature of the competition at hand. 20 guys who either have the first, middle or last name ‘Patrick”, are pitted against each other for a chance to be mentioned twice on E! and thereby potentially increase their post-show sales totals. You make them sit around and try and talk about anything besides the person they’re all dating and you get awkward, time filling conversation where someone is bound to either brag, say questionable things about the person they are all dating, or say something questionable in general. That’s when you get the ICIIWT shot. The shot of a man, whose mind has become warped by competition, lust and creatine, contemplating how easy it would be to do a madness on “Mike B.” from Des Moines if a national TV audience wasn’t watching. It is a look that is the essence of irrational hate.
It’s hate created in the cauldron of a manufactured competition that doesn’t carry weight in The Grand Scheme of Things and is based largely on petty jealousy and annoyance. It’s a hate many of us have for our least favorite sports teams. When someone wearing the logo of a team we hate walks into the room, there is an immediate sizing up. There is the thought that, ya know, you could if you wanted to.
So the question that has arisen for Atlanta United fans and has come to a head after the past week is: Who is their Mike B.? If they were stuck sitting on the patio of a Napa Valley Vineyard with the rest of MLS, who would they be most infuriated to see get one on one time with the Bachelorette and who would they be most upset to exist in the same circle of conversation as? This analogy makes sense.
Anyway, we say most in this situation because it can be true that Atlanta United has more than one rival. A few of y’all may be shocked to learn this, but a lot of people don’t like Atlanta United. This investigation is simply to figure out which team is the most deserving of a zoom shoot of Atlanta United contemplating which nearby object is the bludgeoniest.
Opening Argument: Orlando City Soccer Club
The beginnings of any rivalry are important. Oftentimes, the origin story can tell you all you need to know about the nature and tone of the relationship. In the case of Atlanta United and Orlando City, it began like this:
ATLUTD: “Hey bud, looks like we’re ‘rivals’. Isn’t that fun?”
[ATLUTD gives Orlando City a wink and a slight nudge]
Orlando City: “I will murder your entire family.”
A lot — and we do mean a lot — has been said about the many reasons to hate Orlando City. We won’t continue to rehash those here, but what it comes down to is this: It is a fanbase so unlikeable, so bereft of taste, so much more online than they have any right to be, so Kid Rock, that not only should they be detested, there is a moral obligation to do so. They are the MLS personification of the brother-in-law everyone would prefer not be in the family because he does things like spike the tea at your cousin’s baptismal reception with Four Loko and don’t understand why people are upset about his prank. In many ways, Orlando is the darkest antithesis to Atlanta United — Loud without any right to be, bad at soccer and regular shoppers at JNCO.
Counterpoint: New York Red Bulls
If Orlando is Atlanta United in the Upside Down, NYRB is a parallel universe Atlanta United that thinks it’s the better version of the club based on criteria that it made up on its own. And if we’re being entirely honest here today on Dirty South Soccer dot com, there are aspects of NYRB that are unfortunately enviable. Their ability to throw random accounting students into their XI and have them be successful is as infuriating as it is impressive. They play a style that is perhaps the single most optimal way to succeed in MLS, is fun to watch, and lends itself to players from the FIFA Name Generator having long-term impacts over the course of the season. And, in perhaps their most distinct departure from Atlanta United, their fan base is, at times, very good at Twitter.
The end result is a wave of smugness. It’s an air of superiority that comes with winning a made up trophy that the person with the highest word count on your local MLS messageboard will claim is actually way more important and better even though they know they would actually throw themselves onto the third rail of their broken subway system in exchange for MLS Cup. Their ability to bring nobodies into the fold and have their fans applaud these players success as a byproduct of the organization just being ultimately superior to the rest of the league makes Red Bulls the St. Louis Cardinals if the Cardinals had never actually won a World Series and if the fan base was made up of five dudes with Twitter accounts and Liberal Studies degrees from Monmouth. And this is the heart of where the hate for Red Bulls should lie. It’s a club that is success adjacent. They claim to be a part of “the world’s greatest city” when:
- It is not that.
- They’re actually, ya know, across the river from said city.
It’s just like how they’re metaphorically across the river from being a title winning club. I mean, they’re definitely close. But there is a major difference between the two, and they will never admit it. Like dorks.
Team that would be most aggravating to watch win MLS Cup/sit in the lukewarm bathwater of their fans’ online presence after winning MLS Cup
It’s a crucial part of the “rivalry.” Which team’s success would pain you most. The good news with Orlando is that no one has to realistically worry about this. Red Bulls may eventually break their curse, but odds seem pretty low that they’ll finally be able to do the thing it took Atlanta United just two years to do. But in an extremely hypothetical world where these teams actually win MLS Cup, it’s clear that Orlando would be the most annoying about it. They show up in the ATLUTD mentions when Atlanta loses a regular season game to teams that definitely are not Orlando. Them winning an MLS Cup would not be seen as a great personal success, but a triumph over Atlanta United who will finally notice them now and stop ignoring them in the school cafeteria at lunch.
Red Bulls would celebrate and not be bothered to @ every single Atlanta United twitter account until some dumb account like @DirtySouthSoc said something like “Congrats on the first one in twenty something years, see y’all again in twenty more” while tweeting a picture of Atlanta’s three MLS Cups. And frankly, there would be sense of grudging respect about it because of this...
Look, we’re not here to talk about the importance of “history” as a measuring stick of a club’s worth in a league that has barely survived over 20+ years and is constantly adding new teams. But is important to note the history between Atlanta and its rivals when determining the realness of the rivalry. And we think it’s fair to say that the rivalry with Orlando, while very much existent, was forced, while the rivalry with Red Bulls feels fated.
Everyone knows Orlando is a bad city, Florida is a terrible state and OCSC is a poorly-run tire fire. Plenty of people from Georgia have experienced these things by virtue of simply being neighbors with the state. The choice to make them a rival, however manufactured, was correct and fun and good. However, no one planned on NYRB putting a damper on the very first game in Atlanta United history. No one planned on them being a constant thorn in the side and eventual final boss during Atlanta’s title winning season. No one planned on Red Bulls’ playing style being an excellent counterbalance to Atlanta’s possession-based tendencies. It all just seems to fit together perfectly. And while the play in each Orlando match is, in most cases, intense and competitive, the results are one sided. Red Bulls have coupled an intensity in game play with results that feel fluky enough but consistent enough to convince ATLUTD fans that NYRB has their number. Except for that one time. Remember that one time? When the outcome actually mattered?
Orlando’s entire existence is horrifying and a clear indicator that there might not be a higher power. Red Bulls are a duality of aspects that Atlanta can look at from afar and see both the best and worst versions of itself in. Orlando presents a clear delineation between good and evil. NYRB nestles itself into a grey area. There is an alternate timeline not too far from ours where Atlanta has like 10,000 people in the stands at most and struggles to win the things that actually matter. While Atlanta could never become Orlando, NYRB feels like a version of ourselves we’re running away from. Also, Kemar Lawrence is a nub.
The relationship between the two teams suggest that the struggle within ourselves is perhaps the greatest rivalry of all. And there is a beauty in the competition that arises from that. There are key moments that are as memorable as they are both joyful and painful. Growth occurs on both sides in each. And when push comes to shove, you both respect the fact that you want the worst for each other. Even if there is an inclination to reject so much of what the other side is about. There is a very clear answer here.
Atlanta United’s Real Rival Is...:
How in the world did you not see this coming?