Retooled Orlando City rivals pose interesting threat in Eastern Conference

Feb 25, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta United FC midfielder Thiago Almada (23) celebrates
Feb 25, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta United FC midfielder Thiago Almada (23) celebrates / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City got off to a good start in the Major League Soccer season. The Lions won their first game of the campaign against the New York Red Bulls. Orlando's two biggest rivals also started with wins, and they showed new wrinkles that will be an interesting part in the Eastern Conference race.

Atlanta United looked an awful lot like the same Atlanta United that finished 11th in East last season. The Five Stripes went down 1-0 early in the game to the San Jose Earthquakes courtesy of former Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse.

The Quakes took that 1-0 lead into stoppage time, but World Cup champion Thiago Almada decided he didn't want to open the season with a defeat.

The Argentine playmaker uncorked a beauty of a shot from outside the box to tie the game. Almada one upped himself with a screamer from a direct free kick on the last action of the match.

Atlanta clearly still has holes on the roster, but players who can do things like this are special. As long as Almada is in Atlanta, that team can compete with anybody.

Inter Miami is a team in transition. Head coach Phil Neville's team went on a massive hot-streak in the second half of the year to make the playoffs. The run was spearheaded by former MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo and Argentine superstar Gonzalo Higuain.

Those two are gone, and the roster retool is still in progress. Despite the clear construction, the Herons started the new year in style.

Inter Miami took down CF Montreal --- a team that looks poised for a first-to-worst type of jump --- 2-0 in Ft. Lauderdale Saturday. New center back Sergiy Kryvtsov scored the opener on a set piece, and young Haitian forward Shanyder Borgelin scored his first MLS goal to double the damage.

It's not a dynamite win, but it's a result that Neville's team will continue to compete regardless of the faces on the roster.

Rivalries are one of the most fun parts of MLS. There's real animosity, but it's more good spirited than some of the more intense rivalries across the globe. Because of that, I'm going to keep following Orlando's southeastern rivals closely and patiently await the Lions' bouts with their southern nemesis.

I know there's no Copa Tejas or Cascadia Cup between these three clubs --- and hardly a close rival structure at all --- but I still think there's a lot of fun to be had sparring between these three sides.