Our City is a weekly column dedicated to taking a wide-angled lens to the culture that surrounds Orlando City and Major League Soccer.
A few weeks ago, I discussed the idea of the rivalry between Orlando City and NYCFC. My thesis then was, simply put, that NYCFC was about as close as we were going to get to a rival until we meet up with Atlanta and a yet-to-be determined potential southern expansion team.
Since then, I was contacted by Hanna Allen, the media relations contact for the Known Rivalry Project. The KRP is an academic project founded by Dr. Joe Cobbs from Northern Kentucky University and Dr. David Tyler from Western Carolina University. The KRP objective is to “measure soccer fans’ perceptions of rivalry by providing survey respondents with 100 ‘rivalry points’ to allocate to their favorite team’s opponents, followed by questions regarding the respondent’s reactions toward the rivals.”
While the entire project is a fascinating view into how Major League Soccer teams’ supporters view one another, let’s focus on Orlando City first. The only team to register on Orlando City’s rivalry radar was, you guessed it, NYCFC. Orlando fans rated NYCFC with 88.33 out of 100 rival points. Due to Orlando’s lack of regional rivals, most supporters put most or all of their points towards NYCFC. The rating was so high in fact, that 88.33 was the highest in MLS. In comparison, consider that Portland Timbers fans only gave the Seattle Sounders 64.86 points. This lower score is due to the fact Portland’s rival points are spread between seven other MLS teams, including Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake, and the San Jose Earthquakes.
The lack of regional rivalries, the relatively short period Orlando City has been in MLS, and the lack of playoff appearances would help to explain the lack of other rivals for Orlando.
On the other side of the coin, fans of NYCFC did not register Orlando City as a significant rivalry. The Citizens rated cross-town rivals the New York Red Bulls as their biggest rival, with 69.74, followed by the New England Revolution with a low 9.74 rival point score. NYCFC fans saw Orlando as a very distant third, with only 7.63. Interestingly, NYCFC supporters spread their rival points across six teams, with Philadelphia Union, D.C. United, and LA Galaxy rounding out the list. It is my deduction that these rivalries are not necessarily MLS made, but stretch across sports and local history.
No other team in the survey even registered Orlando City as a lower scoring rival.
Now, here is where things get interesting. The KRP created aggregate rivalry scores by combining how teams’ fans felt about each other to create a top 10 rivalry list for the league. The biggest rivalry, with an aggregate of 133.60 was Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact. I guess there really is something to that Canadian Derby talk after all. Predictably, some of MLS’s most intense rivalries round out the top five, with LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas, D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, in that order.
Despite NYCFC’s lack of passion towards a game vs. Orlando, it seems Lion supporters’ hatred of all things Sky Blue means that an Orlando City vs. NYCFC match-up was good enough for 95.96 aggregate rival points, or the seventh best on the list. That also means this match-up leads the list of “Most Unbalanced Rivalries.”
If there is one big takeaway for me in the KRP’s findings, it is how important Atlanta United FC will be for Orlando City’s overall league experience. I think our rivalry with NYCFC isn’t born out of anything more than the desperate need to have one. I think these findings further punctuate the importance of another team in the Southeast, be that Miami, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Charlotte, or Raleigh. An ecosystem, much like the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, needs to exist for MLS to fully realize the potential of the league in the region.
Finally, beyond the regional rivalries we hope to ignite, I’m curious to see how future playoff or U.S. Open Cup games might add to Orlando’s list of rival teams. A heart-breaking loss, a close win, or a dramatic penalty shootout with clubs across the league could make for something really special when that team comes to Orlando City Stadium the next time around.
If you want to check out all the Known Rivalry Project’s MLS findings, you can check them out here. They have also done research on the NFL, NHL, and college football.
So what do you think? Do you buy the research or are you still skeptical? Do you see another team as a rival that didn’t make the list? How high do you think Miami or Tampa would be if they ever enter the league? I’d love to hear your thoughts either here in the comment section or reach out to me on Twitter: @KevinIsHistory.