Major League Soccer is officially back, as preseason begins for Orlando City and the rest of the league. Amongst the fixture list for the tuneup matches, one, as always, stands out amongst the rest: February 19th against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Like all of the team’s preseason fixtures, no spectators will be allowed to attend the match. Unlike the rest of the team’s preseason fixtures, we all really want to attend the match.
Unlike other local rivalries — Miami and Atlanta (if you stretch the definition of local) — Orlando does not play the Rowdies, at least not in competitive fixtures. The new Rowdies joined the USL Championship in 2017, three years after Orlando’s last in the second division. They’ve only ever met once in the US Open Cup, back in 2014 when the Rowdies were playing in the NASL and Orlando were still in USL.
As far as competitive matches between these two clubs go, we’ll be lucky if we can occasionally get some Open Cup showdowns, but the odds of the Rowdies ever playing in MLS are basically zero. So that leaves us with a yearly preseason friendly, but that preseason friendly could be a lot more than just a closed-door tuneup.
There’s a great natural rivalry between Orlando and Tampa. Unfortunately, the amount of teams that actually play each other are few and far between, but based solely on the animosity of the War on I-4 between USF and UCF football, you can tell that there’s good sporting beef between the two cities. The I-4 Derby, while unable to reach the heights of any MLS rivalries, could become a fun, preseason tradition and unique way to kickoff every season.
Open the stadiums, trade who hosts every year, make a rivalry trophy, the whole shebang. MLS preseason is far from a spectacle, and that’s a shame. I think it’d be an absolute delight to have a preseason cup every season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and I hope you fellow Orlando City fans agree. Would you watch the I-4 Derby preseason classic? Would you go to the stadium? Does a supporter’s trophy already exist and I just don’t know about it? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.