When Atlanta United faces Orlando City on Saturday, in their final gathering at Bobby Dodd Stadium before moving to the high-rent district, the city’s hip, cool core of soccer fans will be faced with a big decision.
Do they lower themselves to the level of those Orlando people who spent a large part of last Friday’s game in Florida chanting a loud, stadium-wide F-based obscenity toward Atlanta? Do they, like the Orlando fans, turn a sporting event into a sweaty, R-rated sing-along, that is neither original nor clever?
Or, do they choose the higher road less taken, stick with their more family-friendly menu of chants and cheers, which has made an Atlanta United game one of the best sporting scenes around?
Picking up on the thread that Orlando-Atlanta could be a natural kind of rivalry – aided by an unnecessarily provocative billboard Atlanta United rented in enemy territory – the Orlando side took a very un-Disney approach to the game. In the first meeting between the two teams, they set the bar so low with this chant that rang clearly through the television broadcast that it may be difficult to limbo beneath it. Not that anyone should try.
Now, it’s all a question of how Atlanta wants to conduct its own side of this instant “rivalry.”
World-wide, soccer spurs emotions and demonstrations far more vulgar than anything that happened in Orlando. Just ask the Atlanta United players, who in many cases were merely amused by the scene there. Atlanta-Orlando doesn’t register even a quiver on the Richter Scale of passionate soccer matches.
Still, as Atlanta United defender Greg Garza said, “The most important thing is making it a family atmosphere. You have little kids all over the place who want to watch the beautiful game of soccer and not learn how to cuss out an opposing player.”
Nowhere else in the American culture would an organized chant like the one in Orlando be met with indifference. It was rather a significant step up from the ol' “BS” chant after a bad call. You don’t think there’d be some kind of reaction if all of Bobby Dodd picked up that kind of language late in the Georgia game?
I’m no vocal prude, believe me. Cut me off in traffic or send my golf ball out of bounds and I'll work as blue as Richard Pryor. Still, such a determined effort to be crude on such a scale as that night in Orlando just feels classless. It feels like something you shouldn’t just accept. Certainly not just because it’s soccer, and that’s what you should expect of soccer fans.
And need we add the reminder that there is no need to punch somebody in the face just because he happens to be wearing the opponent’s officially licensed gear?
Officially, Atlanta United has done nothing to encourage civil behavior one way or another. It’s counting on the character of its customers.
Asked if he thought his fans would respond to Orlando in kind, Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said, “I don’t think we will. I think our fans have done a good job with that stuff. They have been taking the high road. They have been classy. It’s a fun environment. We don’t want to change that.”
That’s to be determined Saturday.