(I am fully aware that both Ross County and the New England played this weekend but I don’t feel like writing about either match. #mysitemyrules)
In the final installment of this series I’d like to tackle a question to which I have , at worst, no answers, or at best, not enough information upon which to form any answers.
What I’d like to talk about today is “competition,” which should not be confused with “level of play”- I am quite happy with the level of play in MLS. It hasn’t reached the level I’d like it to, but it continues to move steadily in a positive direction and that’s really all I can ask. Rather than burden you with my definition of “competition” in this context I’m going to set up a scenario that should illustrate things nicely.
Let’s say it’s mid-season (thus there are no playoff implications to the match), your club is not playing, and there is nothing else special about the match (nobody is trying to set a record, for example), and you can have any two MLS clubs playing in the match. Can you think of any pairing of clubs that would cause you to turn off your phone, invite friends over, etc.? I cannot. I’ll watch any MLS you put in front of me just…because. But I can’t think of any match that meets the criteria I set out about which I would say, “I know that will be a good match, I can’t miss it!”
I think there are two reasons for this.
First, Major League Soccer just covers too much geography (it’s c. 3200 miles form Boston to Vancouver, for example). History and specific events/personalities can overcome distance over a long enough period of time- the Revolution and Red Bulls (no rivals by any stretch of the imagination) are no further away than the Red Sox and Yankees, but those things aside, geography wins. There’s a little extra “something” to the match when the Revolution play the Dynamo (the Revs lost a several heartbreaking MLS Cups to Houston) or the Fire (the clubs really don’t like each other), but again, “my” club is involved and that, in the end, is why there’s more to it for me. Are either of these rivalries? Meh.
The second problem, in my opinion, is that the vast majority of “rivalries” in MLS just feel phony to me. They reek of something thought up during a “brainstorming session” at MLS HQ. Unfortunately, in most cases supporters groups were to blame and that makes me kind of sad. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at them…
Chivas U.S.A. v. L.A. Galaxy: Until there is a second club in NY (er, well, in the “NY Metro Area) this is the only true derby in the league- and it’s awful. The two clubs have met 31 times in all competitions with the Galaxy leading the series to the tune of a 19-7-5 record. If you’re a supporter of either of these clubs go ahead and leave a comment detailing your favorite SuperClasico match.
New York Red Bulls v. D.C. United: “The Atlantic Cup”- this is actually a thing? Really? There are people on both sides of it that circle it on the calendar when the season schedule is announced?
F.C. Dallas v. Chicago Fire S.C.: “The Brimstone Cup”- I get it, one team is called the “fire” and the other used to be called the “burn.” What’s the basis of this rivalry? Oh, that is the entire basis…I see.
L.A. Galaxy v. San Jose Earthquakes: “The California Classico”- this is one that I can understand (different parts of the same state, both clubs were dominant in MLS at the same time, etc.) and there are several outside sources that recognize it as a pretty fierce rivalry, so that lends it some credence. Is it just that awful “East Coast Bias” that has made it little more than a vague idea in my head all these years?
San Jose Earthquakes v. Seattle Sounders F.C.: “The Heritage Cup”- the basis of this is that these two clubs are named after clubs that played in the original NASL and that after that folded they sometimes played each other in the lower levels of American soccer. This is so manufactured that I was convinced MLS had thought it up, but no, it was an Earthquakes fan.
F.C. Dallas v. Columbus Crew: “The Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup”- the basis of this rivalry is that both clubs were once owned by Hunt’s “Hunt Sports Group.” Can’t you just get together once a year during the off-season and have a cookout? What nonsense.
Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders v. Vancouver Whitecaps: “The Cascadia Cup”- I want to hate this dirty rivalry “threesome,” but fans of all three clubs basically got it right. It started in the A-League/USL-1 long before these clubs were in MLS, and the clubs have a more connected history back to the original NASL than the Heritage Cup clubs. This cup is legitimate enough that in 2012 MLS tried to have the name trademarked- essentially an attempt to do a “smash and grab” robbery on the supporters groups that created it. It didn’t work. And what about Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders F.C.? Is that a rivalry independent of Vancouver and this cup? It seems to me that it is.
Real Salt Lake v. Colorado Rapids: “The Rocky Mountain Cup”- This sounds like a good idea, but just for fun, try reading the Wikipedia page on it all the way through without stopping, or realizing that you need to clip your toenails- right NOW!
Houston Dynamo v. F.C. Dallas: “The Texas Derby”- Okay, the fact that the winner gets possession of El Capitan (a howitzer) rather than a trophy at the end of the year is cool. The fact that any one is calling a meeting between two clubs with a history of 8(!) matches against each other a derby or a rivalry, however, is laughable.
Toronto F.C. v. Columbus Crew: “The Trillium Cup”- Let’s get one thing straight, Toronto F.C. is nobody’s rival. You need to be able to consistently win matches- a match!- to have a rivalry.
So basically, one legitimate derby (that happens to be awful) and one legitimate “cup” (the Cascadia Cup) and that’s it. Or is it?
That’s what I want to know from you, the reader, the supporter. Does your club have a legitimate rivalry with a fellow MLS club? Do Philadelphia, Montreal, Kansas City, and New England have rivals?