Orlando City’s rivalry with Atlanta United is barely one season old, but matches between the two clubs have an atmosphere typically reserved for the MLS playoffs.
At least, that’s what Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik thinks.
“Last year, we played them three times,” he said after the Lions’ 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. “All three of them felt like playoff games. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity for us.”
The two clubs meet for the fourth time at 6 p.m. Sunday at Orlando City Stadium.
The Five Stripes’ first match with Orlando City – which was preceded by weeks of buildup that included the club purchasing a billboard in Orlando – drew a sold-out crowd of 25,521 to Orlando City Stadium. Atlanta United won that match 1-0.
The second match between the two teams, a 1-1 draw, was played at United’s former home at Bobby Dodd Stadium and drew 45,006 fans – not far off the average home attendance for Georgia Tech football games at the stadium.
The final 2017 match between the two clubs was played in front of a crowd MLS Commissioner Don Garber called “awe-inspiring.” A then-record-breaking announced crowd of 70,425 came to watch a 3-3 draw between the two clubs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Last week, before Orlando City took on Real Salt Lake, Bendik was asked how the club avoided looking past RSL to what promises to be an intense match against Atlanta United.
His answer was to-the-point.
“I didn’t really know we played Atlanta next week,” Bendik said at the time.
Now, with RSL in the past and with the club riding six match win streak, the Lions (6-2-1, 19 points) can turn their attention to Atlanta United (7-1-1, 22 points), a club on an unbeaten streak of its own since dropping its season opener.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Bendik said. “A lot of preparation is going to go into it this week and we’re going to try and do the same thing, out-compete them and out-work them.”