Today features one of the best rivalries in the English Premier League, the Merseyside Derby. The match features Liverpool and Everton, two teams whose stadiums sit less than a mile apart from each other. It’s going to be a great game, both teams are in the top 6 of the standings and of course it’s a local rivalry. Rivalries raise the stakes of a game beyond the normal win or loss, it becomes about pride. England doesn’t get all of them, there are several in America which shouldn’t be missed. Here are just a few of the greatest MLS rivalries to look forward to this year.
(Side note: We Americans call a more-than-usually-heated game a rivalry; the folks across the pond seem to think that it’s called a derby (pronounced: daarbee). It’s weird, but not that big a deal, so let’s not make too much fun of them for it.)
Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo
There are only a few guarantees in life: death, taxes, and SKC facing Houston in the playoffs — alright, that’s a slight exaggeration. Sporting and Houston have met in the playoffs the past three seasons with Houston coming out on top twice. It isn’t one of the more traditional rivalries — they aren’t considerably close in term of geography, Houston normally calls FC Dallas as their main rival, SKC calls Chicago theirs — but in recent history these two clubs have always played closely contested games when the other is on the field.
Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas
Staying in Texas, these two clubs were rivals from the moment that Houston joined the league in 2006. You’ve heard it before, “Everything’s bigger in Texas” and, although that phrase is a little overused, it is generally true, and it’s no different when they do rivalry trophies, just look at the trophy (pictured right). It’s a replica 18th century mountain howitzer cannon, nicknamed “El Capitan” and it gets moved back and forth between the stadiums depending on who won the most recent game. Although Houston holds the overall winning record (5-2-1), FC Dallas currently displays “El Capitan” in their stadium.
New York Red Bulls and D.C. United
The oldest rivalry in the MLS features one team with the most trophies in the league and one that didn’t have a single one until this last season. Yes, it’s the good ol’ Atlantic Cup between the United (the team with all the trophies) and New York (who just won the 2013 Supporter’s Shield). The Atlantic Cup started back in 1996, and the United have done most of the winning, but the Red Bulls have lost only once in the last seven meetings to make the all-time record a little more respectable, but it’s still in D.C.’s favor at 39-22-10 though all competitions.
Rivalries add more color to the game, and no moment adds more to the legend of this rivalry than when Alecko Eskandarian scored for the Union, and then proceeded to drink from a can of Red Bull and spit it back out in disgust. Though it’s not utterly pretty or extremely creative, it’s funny, and something the D.C. fans will have forever.
San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy
It’s the California Clásico, one of the top 3 best rivalries in MLS. From 2001 to 2005, this series was truly rocking as both teams were regularly rocking winning records and even met in the 2001 MLS Cup Final which San Jose won, 2-1. And guess what? You can watch the entire 2001 Final through YouTube. If you watch that game you’ll notice a young Landon Donovan playing for the Quakes. It’s where he started his career, winning two MLS Cups with the Quakes before eventually moving on to the Galaxy where he helped win three. It’s amazing that the story of this rivalry will always contain the best player in U.S. history.
This past season, the two battled in one of the best game of the season (in my opinion, it was the best). Below are the highlights to that game, and I highly encourage you to watch it, at least the last three minutes. Seriously, it’s worth your time.
Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids
RSL join the league in 2005. Also joining the league in 2005 was the Rocky Mountain Cup, a rivalry where elevation is pride. The trophy is given based off of the most points earned in games played directly between the two, and RSL has taken home the trophy 6 out of 9 years, but it is Colorado that were awarded the Cup in 2013. The all-time series record is held by the Rapids, but by the slimmest of margins: the record stands 10-9-9. With both teams making the playoffs in 2013, we should all be graced by a resurgence to greatness with this underrated rivalry.
Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders
There is only one reason that you wouldn’t know this rivalry would be on the list: you intentionally avoid soccer. Portland and Seattle make up two-thirds of the Cascadia Cup (the other third being the Vancouver Whitecaps), and, boy, do they make it interesting. The teams are all secluded up in their Northwest corner with no other professional cross-city sport to vent their hatred of each other (moment of silence for the Sonics . . .), they truly love to hate each other. In fact their mid-August game in 2013 was the second most attended game in MLS history*. If you have a friend that doesn’t know what it’s like to see true passion among sports fans, show them the what happens when the Sounders venture into Portland. I’ve only been watching MLS since the beginning of last year, and honestly the Portland crowd drew me in like little else (other than SKC being so awesome).
* - 67,385 was the official count. I’m going to insert my own conjecture here — I think the ‘largest’ crowd isn’t exactly fair. In some cases, clubs could be pulling more fans if the stadiums were bigger. For instance, the MLS Cup Final in Kansas City was capped at ~22,000 due to the size of Sporting Park. What would it actually have been if they had more seats?