Three for Thursday: The league's underrated rivalries
These aren’t the bold face rivalries, the derbies that get the blood pumping for locals and always manage to find their way onto national TV. There’s no Seattle vs. Portland or RSL vs. Colorado here.
No, these are three of MLS’ under the radar rivalries – feuds, really – between sides that have traded paint one way or the other over the years, and are likely to do so again in 2012.
1) Sporting Kansas City vs. New York – This goes back to 2005, when KC somehow contrived to go on an eight-game winless streak to end the year, allowing the then-MetroStars an opening to pip them for the final playoff spot at the wire. Thanks to goals from Michael Bradley and Amado Guevara – remember them? – Metro did just that, sneaking in on the last day of the regular season thanks to a 2-0 win over Chivas USA.
KC ended up watching the 2006 MLS Cup Playoffs from home as well, and this time it was personal. They went into the final game of the regular season with their fate in their hands, and the Red Bulls hung a memorable 3-2 loss on them thanks to a Guevara hat trick. That – once again – gave New York the final spot in the postseason.
There were fewer dramatics over the ensuing three seasons as both teams struggled, generally on the fringes of playoffs. But in 2010, New York pulled it all together (or so it seemed) and won the regular season Eastern Conference crown.
A year later, it was Sporting KC who unseated them, and this time there were plenty of dramatics. A tussle between Roger Espinoza and Thierry Henry saw the Frenchman sent off in the 27th minute of the second-to-last game of the season, and the 2-0 KC win virtually guaranteed Sporting first place in the East.
Is there more to come from these two? Seems like it, especially since most of the major characters from the last two seasons will be back in 2012.
2) Seattle vs. Colorado – Steve Zakuani’s broken leg was the most gruesome image – and one of the most memorable for all the wrong reasons – of 2011. But these two teams had already played some heated, chippy games in the two years prior to Brian Mullan’s infamous tackle, and neither side really owned the upper hand.
The relief, of course, is that in the return leg last summer after Zakuani’s injury, both sides acted like pros and did away with tackles of the brutal kind. Instead, they let their play do the talking, and in the end it was Seattle (and their famously demure fans) who were louder, posting a 4-3 win in what was one of the classic games of the year.
Unfortunately, it was also a game marred by injury, as Colorado’s Conor Casey tore his Achilles while going up for a header.
Whether or not Zakuani and/or Casey are back healthy and ready to go when these teams meet up in 2012, it’s a fair bet that, for players and fans alike, there will be a little more than just three points on the line.
3) Houston vs. Montreal – The Brian Ching Derby.
There’s really no precedent for this. The two teams have never met before in any competition, and “Montreal vs. Houston” doesn’t exactly scream “natural rivalry.”
But everyone knows what happened in the Expansion Draft, and regardless of which team Ching suits up for – or if he even suits up at all – both sides will be going into this one with full hearts and a point to prove.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com