Orlando City has played just half of a season at the Major League Soccer level, but we're already seeing some familiarity developing between the Lions and several other clubs in the league.
In the Eastern Conference, OCSC has faced D.C. United three times already, and has played Montréal and Columbus two times apiece. Out of these three most commonly faced opponents, though, the series with Columbus appears to show the most promise in terms of rivalry potential.
The two teams have played twice in the league since April 18, and Tuesday night's U.S. Open Cup tie will mark the third meeting between the two in less than three months. This high frequency of matches, along with some chippy play in the first two matches, has Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew SC feeling like a naturally developing rivalry in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions received their official welcome to MLS in Columbus back in April when the Crew handed Orlando a 3-0 drubbing at Mapfre Stadium. The lopsided result came in part because OCSC were playing a man down for the final 65 minutes of the match, following a send-off for fullback Rafael Ramos in minute 34.
After a testy opening to the match, Ramos – frustrated after essentially gifting Columbus its opening goal in the 32' – was shown a straight red after a two-footed, studs up challenge on Crew SC's Waylon Francis. The harsh tackle led to some choice words between players on the pitch, and Columbus proceeded to roll with two more goals against the depleted Orlando side.
Things also got a bit argumentative in the second meeting between these clubs, a 2-2 draw at the Citrus Bowl on May 30. After Columbus took a 1-0 lead on the strength of a Tony Tchani header in the sixth minute, the Crew were reduced to 10 men when Michael Parkhurst was sent off for a handball in the box. The call resulted in a penalty kick, which Kaká buried to level the score, and Columbus was forced to play a man down for over 80 minutes.
Following the match, players such as Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram were critical of the handball call, and Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter said the match was 'ruined' by the red card.
Two games, two red cards, and lots of words between the two sides have elevated feelings of discord between the clubs. A U.S. Open Cup match figures only to be fuel to the fire, and with another league meeting awaiting on Aug. 1, the Lions and the Crew are guaranteed to play a minimum of four times in Orlando's first year in the American top flight.
"I hope we can finish with 11 players on the field," Lions manager Adrian Heath said on this week's call-in show. "That'd be nice. It looks like we're starting to get a little bit chippy against Columbus."
Tuesday night's U.S. Open Cup bout will provide an opportunity for these two clubs to finally play a full 90 minutes of 11-on-11 soccer – a very entertaining prospect – with the added intensity of a cup tie to amplify things even further. It would not be surprising to see the budding rivalry take another step on Tuesday night at the Citrus Bowl.