Can’t Win For Losing: An Orlando City Supporter Ponders MLS Cup 2018
Like many of my friends in the Orlando City supporter community, I woke up today in a no-win situation. Tonight, the Major League Soccer Cup Final occurs eight hours and change north of Orlando in the city of Atlanta. At 8 o’clock Orlando time, Atlanta United will take on the Portland Timbers for a trophy my own club has gotten no closer to than my Columbia University PhD application has gotten to acceptance. Whatever happens today, I’m going to be a loser. Not like “that’s bummer that didn’t go well for me” kind of losing, but more the “Will Johnson rubbing salt into your wounds because there’s a clause in his contract that says he can” kind of losing.
How possibly can I contextualize this? How can I wash the final wounds of what has been the worst possible season for Orlando City and contemplate a world where Atlanta United are the champions of anything? How can this day of soccer be anything but the absolute worst for an Orlando City supporter?
Pull for Portland?
The first inclination of many of us are to deputize ourselves in flannel and declare ourselves Timber’s Army volunteers for the day. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and all that.
That feels good for a minute until your heart just tells you that passions are misplaced. Sure living in the shadow of golden boys Atlanta United have been annoying, but Orlando was born into the shadow of the Portland Timbers. We drew some passionate crowds to our games, organized some supporter’s groups, and were instantly told that we’d never be Portland. Except for the MLS front office also wishes we were. If you wear a tie and use the word “sports marketing,” then Orlando looks just like Portland in terms of the size of the market, metro-area demographics, and (until this season) attendance. No doubt when Orlando was considered as a possible MLS franchise, Portland was part of that discussion. The league openly has worked to create a Portland-Seattle rivalry with Orlando and Atlanta. Something that Atlanta hasn’t been interested in and Orlando hasn’t ever actually competed in.
Add to this our general level of annoyance at the league’s media outlets constantly shipping for Atlanta. Well, Portland and Seattle have been those forever golden media darlings long before Atlanta was able to organize a pick-up game. So much so that I bet you forgot Vancouver was a part of the Cascadian Cup rivalry that dates back to the 1970s. Don’t worry, MLS forgets too.
The Timber’s aren’t our friends, they are just a team we play two fewer times a year than anybody in the Eastern Conference.
Pull for Atlanta?
If this were any other sport, any other team, I’d pull for these brash upstarts. I’m a big believer in a bit of fresh blood getting their hands on a trophy in any sport. I hate dynasties. I don’t even watch baseball but I know I hate the Yankees. The unbeatable Chicago Bulls bored me just as much as a never changing top five in the Premier League does. The beauty of MLS has always been how each club, besides Orlando City, begins the season with a realistic shot at winning an MLS Cup. In that tradition, I should be ecstatic that Atlanta winning this thing proves the league is still fun, competitive, and unpredictable.
I could pull for an Atlanta win for a host of personal reasons. I was born in Georgia, lived in Atlanta for a bit, and some of my first soccer games were the NASL’s Atlanta Chiefs and the ASL’s Georgia Generals. Before I ever watched an Orlando Lions game in the 1980s, I was a little kid who learned to love soccer in Atlanta.
Finally, as much as no Atlanta United fan would ever want to admit, their success has come as part of what Orlando City had done before them. Orlando proved that soccer had a place in the South, that it could compete with college football. They learned from our success, they also learned from our mistakes (re: how to sign young designated players and/or blow your entire budget on one aging soccer star). As Atlanta lifts a trophy tonight, as I suspect they will, I don’t envision anyone sending a thank you note to Orlando, but as the historian in the room, I’m here to tell you that nothing happens in a vacuum and everything has a history, even a brand-new soccer team.
Mostly I’ll watch MLS Cup tonight out of a morbid masochistic curiosity. I can’t pull for Portland or Atlanta, I can only ponder my own existence on the darkest Orlando City timeline. No matter who wins tonight, we’re all the loser here in Orlando. Well except Will Johnson, there’s probably some clause in his contract that gives him a pay raise when another team wins MLS Cup.