Even if Orlando City beats Atlanta United in this week’s rivalry match at Orlando City Stadium, Lions coach Jason Kreis isn’t too concerned with the outside perception of his club.
The Lions (6-2-1, 19 points) still have doubters, despite winning each of their past six matches and scoring multiple goals in all six. Atlanta United leads the league in goals scored (23) and goals allowed (10) and are unbeaten since dropping their season opener to the Houston Dynamo.
The Five Stripes (7-1-1, 22 points) are on top of the Eastern Conference and represent Orlando City’s “most severe test to date,” according to Kreis.
Still, Sunday’s match, which gets started at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, isn’t about sending a message to the league.
“I guess just don’t look at it that way,” Kreis said. “I know there’s a lot of people out there that are saying those sorts of things about us. It just doesn’t matter to us, what anybody’s saying about us outside the locker room. All we care about is the people in the locker room and what we think of ourselves.
“I really could care less what anybody outside our locker room thinks about us.”
Of course, Kreis and his players acknowledged the rivalry aspect of Sunday’s game. Of the 23 teams playing in MLS, Orlando City and Atlanta United are the only ones based in the Southeast.
The two clubs played three times last season, with Atlanta United winning the first matchup in Orlando City Stadium, followed by two draws in Atlanta – one at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the other at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I think it’s nearing that,” Kreis said when asked if Orlando City versus Atlanta United is a true rivalry.
“I would say that, you know, after three matches with them last year … and every match, I thought, was a really good soccer match. Really tight affairs. I think, in particular, we probably feel a little bit hard-done with the results because I feel like we were in positions to draw the first game and in the second two games at their place.
“We were in winning position in those games and didn’t take care of business in the end. I think that leaves a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said Atlanta United has been the best team in the league so far and attacking midfielder Miguel Almirón has been “probably the best player in the league so far this season.”
“It’s a rivalry game, so it means a lot to the fans,” he said. “Playing at home, you always want to win. You want to win, especially against your rivals. Everything always feels better when you beat your rivals and you can send them on a long road trip back home, although it’s not very long. It can feel long for them.”
Striker Dom Dwyer, who has six goals in his last six matches, said the Lions have respect for Atlanta United, but the club is primarily focused on its own play.
“I would say the last six games were a test, as well,” Dwyer said. “I wouldn’t look past them. We’re just going week-to-week right now. It’s a good opportunity against and a good team and we’re excited.”
Dwyer was coy when asked whether Orlando City vs. Atlanta United is a true rivalry since the Five Stripes have only been in MLS for one full season.
“I guess we’ll have to see on Sunday,” he said with a smile.