Atlanta United vs. Charlotte a rivalry? Depends upon who you ask

Sept. 18, 2021 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan reacts after their 3-2 win against D.C. United at Mercedes Benz Stadium Saturday, September 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Ga.. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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Sept. 18, 2021 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan reacts after their 3-2 win against D.C. United at Mercedes Benz Stadium Saturday, September 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Ga.. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Getting this out of the way now. Atlanta United vs. Charlotte in MLS is not a rivalry. Yet.

The teams will meet for the first time Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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A rivalry isn’t a rivalry just because marketing wants it to be.

“It can’t be manufactured,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “There needs to be real substance within the game. So, you know, until we step on the field, it can’t be something that’s made up. It’s got to feel real.”

There are reasons that MLS and its TV partners and supporters would love for this to become a rivalry. Charlotte is the closest city to Atlanta within the MLS footprint by a scant five miles compared with Nashville. Charlotte as a city has long aspired to be the next Atlanta. The two are the hubs of competing mega-businesses: Home Depot and Lowe’s. Coke and Pepsi. The two clubs are owned by men who also own the NFL team in their cities. Both owners are billionaires. Both teams play in stadiums that also host those NFL teams. Both teams share the same color palette as their NFL counterparts.

And there’s this: David Tepper, who owns Charlotte FC and the NFL’s Panthers, took metaphorical aim at Atlanta United after the franchise was announced by directing an expletive at the city when asked about Atlanta.

But ...

“I mean, hopefully with time, it can feel like a rivalry, can feel like as a rival in a good fashion, in a competitive-on-the-field fashion. And, it can feel like that at the moment. I will say it’s false to say it’s a rivalry because we never faced them before. But hopefully in time, it can turn into something like that.”

Charlotte has had a tough go so far, very much unlike Atlanta United’s in 2017.

Charlotte’s roster is still under construction and lacks the quality that Atlanta United had in its first season. It has yet to score or win either of its first two games. It doesn’t have a training ground. It did sell out its first game and broke Atlanta United’s single-game attendance record, but there are many tickets available for its next game, and the price points are prohibitive, at least $90 for the cheapest ticket.

But emotions can sometimes help overcome facts. And, while Atlanta United has downplayed this being something more than just a regular-season game, Charlotte has embraced it.

“I was the first to talk about it to my players,” Charlotte manager Miguel Angel Ramirez said. “I said, ‘I want my first win against Atlanta in Atlanta’s house.’ I said to them that never will it motivate me more than to have our first win in Atlanta’s house.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1

March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 10 at Charlotte, 1:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE