Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Top 5 MLS Fan Rivalries

There are plenty of MLS rivalries with deep-seated fan ties lingering out there in the ether. Chicago and New England have met in the playoffs more than any two clubs in league history and their fans have developed a healthy sheen of animosity. RSL-Dallas and NY-LA have turned into nice clashes of late as well, although I can make a better case for those just being good games rather than fan-fueled rivalries. But the following five take the cake, as it were. In my humble estimation, anyway.

5. Salt Lake v Colorado

In general, sports rivalries in the country's midsection are overlooked by the coastal cities, an easy thing to do in MLS with most of the power concentrated on the country's flanks. But the Rocky Mountain Cup between RSL and Colorado deserves its due. It was overlooked for years as these sides struggled for legitimacy, but RSL's recent flowing into the crown jewel of the league (when Javier Morales is healthy) last year and Colorado's 2010 MLS Cup victory added some bite to an already fierce clash.

Plus, it's Utah v Colorado, Mormons v Hippies, skiing resorts v skiing resorts, Salt Lake v Denver, Utes v Buffs. Lots to like here.

4. Houston v Dallas

It would perhaps be easy to substitute Chicago for Houston where Dallas is concerned, since the Brimstone Cup has been in play since 2001 and those teams share no small bit of enmity for each other. But of course it has to be the Governor's Cup - Houston against Dallas, city v city.

To understand this rivalry, you'd have to understand the underlying beef traversing the sports landscape. Much of it comes from Houston's proximity to the undeniably love-or-hate Dallas Cowboys. The city of Houston has always had a measure of begrudging envy toward Dallas when it comes to football success (this is Texas, after all), which amplified when the Oilers moved to Tennessee and Houston was team-less for a number of years. Likewise, look at Mavericks v Rockets, Astros v Rangers etc... As far as the cities go, you're usually a Metroplex person or a Houston person, and ne'er the two shall meet.

On the soccer pitch, the Dynamo hold the bragging rights after winning a pair of back-to-back MLS Cups, and Dallas is still searching for its first (reminded me of the basketball rivalry until last week). Dallas falling short in the final last year added a few meek arrows to the quiver, but Houston still feels brash enough to do things like this... in Frisco...

3. DC v New York

There is some traction to the belief that Philly could one day overtake DC in New York's hierarchy of hatred as this year-old poll shows. The built-in sports rivalry would seem to support the notion of a power shift along the I-35 corridor. And we're probably in for a fascinating interchange as Philly and NY duke it out for top billing in the East this summer.

But for now, the oldest MLS rivalry, United-Metrostars/Red Bulls, gets all the attention here. DC holds the historic edge in the series with a 29-19-7 all-time record, though the recent shift in power in New York's direction has spiced things up. This series has produced some incredible games: Ben Olsen's hat-trick in 2007 and Chris Pontius' stoppage-time winner in 2009 both immediately come to mind. New York railroaded DC 4-0 earlier this year, and that produced the second-best goal of the year from Juan Agudelo (sorry Juan, Eric Hassli has you here). The fans hate each other, as any solid rivalry demands.

I don't have a dog in this fight, but the rivalry was perfectly compressed into a single flash point by Alecko Eskandarian, who famously sucked on a Red Bull and spit it out after scoring a goal in 2006. That says about enough.

2. Los Angeles v San Jose

To head off any claimants for the Superclasico, that rivalry is more Lakers-Clippers than anything. Sorry, Goats.

The inescapable Landon Donovan tie (an SJ fan came up with the unforgettable Landycakes moniker), the oftentimes brutal display on the field, the utter hatred most of these fans feel toward one another... this beast has most of what you're looking for in the brawl-it-out sense. If Dallas v Houston is a white collar rivalry, this one is characterized by a blood-stained, faded blue collar from years of abuse.

It's NorCal against SoCal, two ideologies so divergent that they might as well draw a state line just north of Bakersfield and be done with it. It tends to slip in and out of national favor by how San Jose's standing in the league table looks, but it rarely effects the fervor in the stands. It's nothing to brag about, but the San Jose SG 1906 Ultras have developed a pretty despicable reputation around the league that they seem proud of, but it is with no group that they clash more than with LA. Lovely.

1. Seattle v Portland

I'm sure I'll catch some stick here from those fans with deeper top flight ties, but it's hard to argue with the passion this rivalry inspires. It's even harder as an outsider to understand it. As with any good dogfight, this one goes beyond Qwest and beyond Jeld-Wen. The two cities harbor fans with similar sensibilities (despite what they'd love to tell you) in close markets that've had time to develop a level of mistrust that soaks through every tissue the sport provides.

This year's 1-1 draw was the 75th time these teams squared off, although it was the first in MLS. The next fixture in July is already circled in blood. With due respect to Vancouver, Seattle and Portland make the Cascadia Cup worth watching (though again, any opportunity to bring up Hassli's goal and I'll do it). There are no two better venues to take in an MLS game than Qwest and Jeld-Wen, and that seems to carry over to the games. I've mentioned it before, but the soccer fanaticism that rages in the Northwest is something we haven't seen with consistency anywhere else in the country. Plenty have expressed doubts, saying that the intensity will fade in Seattle and Portland with time just as it did everywhere else. I'm not so sure. These cities really, really despise each other.

I'll leave you with this. IT'S JUST A GAME GUYS!!!

- Will Parchman


The Wanderer said...

Good to see that you didn't mention MLS' bogus and overhyped "Superclasico". As a San Jose fan since 1996 I can tell you that the California Clasico is much more organic and real. SJ might not have the greatest attendance each year but I'm pretty sure attendance has always gone up when the Galaxy comes to town.

Will Parchman said...

The LA Derby has always felt cheaply manufactured to me. Even when I lived out there, the fan-directed energy never seemed that genuine. It's always seemed more like a construct of the league than anything naturally raised. Reminds me a little of a cheap Western movie set, where the buildings are hollow and made of flimsy balsa wood. Even the name 'Superclasico' is a hilarious overstatement. "You like Barca-Real Madrid??? WELL GET READY FOR THIS."

DM said...

RE DC vs. NY: "I-35 corridor" should be "I-95 corridor".