Time for the Florida Derby to matter

Jul 9, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA;  Orlando City defender Michael Halliday (26) and Inter Miami
Jul 9, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando City defender Michael Halliday (26) and Inter Miami / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalries in Major League Soccer are weird. This is a league with a lengthy history of fabricating rivalries for the sake of manufactured drama, from the laughable Trillium Cup between Columbus and Toronto, or the non-rivalry between Kansas City and Minnesota that nobody actually dubbed "the nicest rivalry in sports."

The Florida Derby between Inter Miami and Orlando City felt forced from the start, at least to me. I won't speak for every fan in Florida, but you can't just put a team close by and immediately become rivals. It takes time.

This is the same process that happened with Atlanta. When that franchise joined the league, Orlando was pegged as a 'rival' because they were the only teams in the southeast. At first, that was as plastic and fake as a rivalry can get, with no real bite or connective tissue between the two.

Then time passed and big moments happened.

Kaka's goal in Bobby Dodd. The 3-3 game in 2017. The US Open Cup Semifinal.

There's real history between the clubs and enough banter on the social sphere that this has become a real rivalry.

This is the same situation I feel the Florida Derby is approaching. Orlando and Miami have had some fun and memorable games together -- MLS is Back opener, US Open Cup game -- but it's lacking the proper bite and vitriol.

That is going to change Wednesday. Orlando City faces the Herons of Inter Miami in Ft. Lauderdale and it's a vital game for both team's playoff chances. This game will decide Miami's playoff fate and largely influence Orlando's chances before Decision Day.

Those stakes will take this fledgling rivalry and supercharge it. This game will provide the intensity and boost that is needed in the Sunshine State. Miami will be without its talisman Alejandro Pozuelo, but between Gonzalo Higuain and the over-performing Herons around him will provide the juice to make this an exciting playoff-esque game.

MLS is a young league, but it's starting to mature. This is Orlando's eighth season in the league and Miami's third. The league is pushing into a new era with more money, better players and a bigger stage. One of the most fun parts of this new phase is that rivalries like this are finally becoming real rivalries, and that begins in earnest on Wednesday.