SmorgasBorg: #NYvCHI rivalry is finally ready to take off

New York vs. Chicago (IMAGE)

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We’ve all wanted it to be big. Really big.

But over the course of league history, New York vs. Chicago – two of the biggest-spending MLS clubs with two of the most rabid fanbases – hasn’t really delivered the way it should have over the years. But don’t blame either team. It’s not their fault.

Blame fate.

The pendulum swings in MLS, that’s just the way it goes. And teams go through rough patches only to rise up to be contenders again. But in the case of the Red Bulls and Fire, the pendulum has rarely swung in the same direction for both.

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How many years have both made the playoffs in the same season in the 16-year history of the league? Only eight. That’s just half the time. And it hasn’t happened since 2008, when the Red Bulls advanced to MLS Cup … by going through the Western Conference bracket.

June 17, 2012: Chicago 3, New York 1

If a rivalry is ever to exist between two cities separated by more than 700 miles, both teams need to be good for an extended period and that hasn't been the case.

The more revealing number comes from the regular season: Of the 42 matches played since 1998, only 12 of them have seen both NY and Chicago come in with more wins than losses. And in the last nine years, only five times have both sides met with a record above .500.

So it should come as little surprise that New York and Chicago only have one postseason meeting back in 2000 with a dream match-up between Lothar Matthaus' New York side and Hristo Stoitchkov's Fire. It was a memorable series that was only decided on an 88th-minute goal in the third and deciding game (back when series were determined by points). The venom that it produced, especially in that final match at Soldier Field, was the stuff epic sports rivalries are made from.

But that seed of competitive contempt fell on barren ground. Until this Saturday, that is.

July 18, 2012: New York 1, Chicago 0

Aside from the out-of-the-blue 2003 US Open Cup final, this weekend’s regular season matchup on NBC (3:30 pm ET) is the most meaningful between the two clubs since that 2000 playoff series.

The years for both teams since the turn of this century have mainly been marked by ownership change, new stadiums and turnover in the coaching ranks. The biggest lightning rod between the two clubs came off the field in the form of a front-office spat for the services of manager Juan Carlos Osorio and Wilman Conde.

But these are different times.

Both New York and Chicago are strong. Really strong. They’re both contenders in the East. And Saturday is the first time that either team arrives with 53 points in a regular season match-up.

There’s no one left on either side from that bitter, epic 2000 playoff series, but this is a fresh start for a rivalry that has struggled to take off. And it has the best shot it has ever had, because the NBC national TV showcase on Saturday will be followed by a likely grudge match in just a few weeks in a No. 2 vs. No. 3 Eastern playoff series.

We’ve all wanted it to be big. And maybe NY vs. Chicago is finally there.