Orlando City Soccer Club announced today the suspensions of all organized supporters’ group privileges for fans of Atlanta United FC for the next three matches held at Orlando City Stadium. The decision comes in response, or more due to a lack of an appropriate response, to video footage shared by OCSC with Atlanta United FC’s management that depicted five of the Georgia-based clubs’ supporters throwing objects during the most recent installment of the rivalry on May 13, 2018.
It was part of the same incident that saw Orlando City set new stadium policies and ban nearly 40 of its own fans for throwing debris onto the pitch. Atlanta United FC not only failed to respond to the club’s request to identify a few Five Stripes fans who also threw debris, but also ignored the opportunity to request an extension on the matter.
“On May 15, Orlando City SC shared video footage and images with Atlanta United FC of five of its fans throwing objects during the match. Atlanta United failed to respond with the names of the offenders or ask for an extension within the appropriate window of time.”
While Atlanta United fans can still buy tickets to games at OCS, the ban prohibits them from purchasing seats in a designated supporters’ section with escorts to the match, from entering the stadium before general admission gates open, and from bringing flags or banners into the venue.
This isn’t the first occurrence of such a suspension — even within the Orlando-Atlanta series. Last season, Atlanta United FC made the decision to suspend Orlando’s supporters’ groups, the Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm, for four away matches. The decision stemmed from the arrest of three fans on allegations of destruction of club property on July 29, 2017. So far, only one match has been served by OCSC supporters’ groups; last year’s Sept. 16, 2017 away clash that ended as a 3-3 draw.
The next away match that City plays in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be June 30 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). After that, OCSC’s dedicated supporter groups will have another two away matches to serve their suspension; the next which could quite possibly come during the MLS playoffs.
Atlanta’s first affected away match will be Aug. 24 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). After that, Atlanta’s next away clash with Orlando is, as of this moment, unscheduled. That means that the next meeting could once again crop up in the MLS playoffs, as mentioned above.
What Does This All Mean?
Essentially, a growing MLS rivalry just got a little bit spicier. Actually, maybe a lot spicier. The two clubs have seemingly always been mired in an intertwining controversy, and this recent suspension will only serve to add fuel to that fire. Sure, while the intended purpose is to do the opposite, there’s little doubt in my mind that the passionate and dedicated specters of both clubs’ supporter groups will still remain.
An increased police presence is now warranted, and I fully expect the number of patrol cars and corresponding badges to increase both in and around the two venues. But no amount of gamesmanship or “passion” is worth a night in the clink, so I plead with you, Mane Landers, please follow the advice of the club.
“Orlando City SC expects all fans, regardless of affiliation, to exhibit appropriate and safe conduct at Orlando City Stadium.”
Update (8:30 p.m.)
Atlanta United apparently disputes Orlando City’s claim that the Georgia club did not respond with the names of the offenders or ask for an extension within the appropriate window of time. Per Dirty South Soccer, Atlanta issued the following statement:
We disagree with the unsubstantiated and premature position that the Orlando City SC organization has taken regarding our visiting fans and have asked for an extension to further investigate alleged supporter involvement. We feel this action is inconsistent with League policy and practice and as such we will be calling for League review.
We continue to assist Orlando City SC with their follow-up on incidents of Atlanta United fan misconduct and believe in accountability for these behaviors, as well as for the misconduct displayed by OCSC fans at the conclusion of the May 13 match.
It’s unclear what this means. Is this a reaction to Orlando City’s announcement? Did Atlanta request an extension but not in what Orlando considers “the appropriate window of time?” Did anyone affiliated with Atlanta United even watch the video or look at the images? Stay tuned, as we continue to follow all the drama.