Rivalries are a key part of the sport of soccer. All around the world, the biggest games every year are the biggest rivalries in those countries. This is no more prevalent than in the United States where Major League Soccer has made its mission to promote the league's rivalries. However, because Orlando City has always been separated from other teams throughout the league, finding a true rival has been very difficult. But next season, one of the club's teams will have a league rival.
Last month, it was announced that the Tampa Bay Rowdies would make the move, along with the Ottawa Fury, from the North American Soccer League (NASL) to the United Soccer League (USL), where the club's reserve team, Orlando City B, plays. The move will give OCB a natural rival and will give the club its first local league rival.
While the rivalry with the Rowdies will be new for OCB as a team, it will be a returning rival for the club. The start of Orlando City's rivalry with the Rowdies began in 2013 during the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, a preseason tournament that involved the Lions, Rowdies, and six MLS teams. The two teams faced off in a consolation game to end the tournament, which resulted in a 2-0 Lions win with goals by Jamie Watson — who netted a first-minute penalty — and Dennis Chin in the 76th minute.
The meeting during that preseason tournament was a precursor to the I-4 Derby match-up that took place the following month. This saw the two sides meet up in a home-and-home series, both of which were won by the Lions. Orlando City won both of these games by 3-2 scores, with the first coming at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and the second being played at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg.
The I-4 Derby continued in 2014, Orlando City's last season in the USL. The Lions took both games, once again winning 3-0 at Disney's Wide World of Sports — the club’s temporary home — and 3-2 at Al Lang Stadium. That season also saw the two sides meet in a competitive game for the first time ever as they faced off in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Lions won that match-up, 4-1 at Seminole Soccer Complex in Sanford, advancing to the fourth round of the knockout tournament.
When the young Lions and the Rowdies face off for the first time during the 2017 USL season, it will be the first time the two clubs have played a league game against each other. More than that, it will be the first time that Orlando City as a club has had a true league rival for any of its teams. While David Beckham's prospective Miami MLS team would give the senior team its first in-state league rival, the Rowdies are set to become the club's first next season.