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Our City: Pop Culture Tifo & Our Sensitive Feelings

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Orlando hung a brilliant tifo to welcome Atlanta United FC to Florida for the first time, but some people weren’t feeling the hospitality.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Our City is a weekly column devoted to the culture surrounding Orlando City and Major League Soccer.

Orlando City’s supporters groups collectively raised their first tifo with the new stadiums rafter system Friday against Atlanta United FC. While the Ruckus, Iron Lion Firm, and their affiliates aren’t new to the tifo game, the ability to hang their inspiring artwork from the rafters will allow them to raise their game (pun intended, sorry).

This effort was a magnificent piece channeling popular television series The Walking Dead into an appropriately themed effort for this first match-up with the new club from a few hundred miles due north.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Not everyone was as pleased with the display as it appeared nationally on the ESPN televised game. Tweets (oddly mostly from MLS observers, and not Atlanta supporters) took offense at the graphic nature of a man with a barbed wire baseball bat figuring out which Atlanta player he’d beat up first. Allegations of inciting violence against Orlando’s opponents soon found their way onto popular social media sites like Twitter and Reddit.

Maybe this is a good time for a disclaimer? I’m not a part of any of the supporters groups. I’m also, despite not identifying as “liberal,” very “politically correct” as they say. I’m also a pacifist. I know, I know, my family is disappointed in me too. That said, for all my political correctness, I didn’t find much offensive in the tifo because I can tell the difference between a pop culture reference and a call to violence.

Tifo are meant to be intimidating, and yes Orlando’s certainly was. The same way, the Seattle Sounders’ “Down Kitty” with a fist crushing a lion wasn’t meant to be anything more than a symbolic welcome to MLS from one of the league’s established clubs to us in our first inaugural season. As I recall that game in 2015, I was oddly honored that Seattle support took the time to make a tifo for our first trip to the Emerald City.

While I’m sure no one from the Atlanta support would see it this way, I’d see it as the same kind of honor. The Orlando supporters group took your brand-new team seriously enough to enjoy a bit of banter with you and put some work into a massive tifo. On top of that, it was a current cultural reference and not something easy, like a picture of Sherman burning Atlanta. The Walking Dead is, for those not in the know, set partly in Atlanta.

I’d bet Atlanta will have a reciprocal effort during one of the two away fixtures in Georgia. Billboards don’t count. I’ll expect it will have something to do with Mickey Mouse, but I’ll hope for something more creative. If they do end up artistically representing some form of dead mouse, I won’t take it as a threat to my fellow fans or the Walt Disney Corporation. I’ll just enjoy it as some return banter. That’s how these things work.

While I don’t condone violence, or the tomfoolery engaged in by all the supporters groups in Major League Soccer, (see that above disclaimer again if you need clarification), this is the sort of stuff that goes along with playing in a competitive league. Most of us in Orlando were happy to welcome the traveling support on Friday night, and most of the Atlanta fans who made the trip enjoyed their time. I’m sure the win helped. Having a chance to mingle with opposing fans and traveling to opposing cities is also part of the deal. If someone welcomes you to “Blue Hell” don’t worry, you won’t actually be damned, you’ll just be stuck in Kansas City for 90 minutes.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-FC Dallas at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your take? Were you offended? Did Orlando go too far with their artistic welcome to one of the new MLS clubs?