LEHI, Utah – Is a rivalry is building between the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake?
Crew alum Duncan Oughton raised the possibility in a video clip on the Crew’s official website, www.thecrew.com, ahead of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal between the two MLS clubs on Tuesday night.
“There’s a bit of a rivalry building,” said Oughton, before adding that “there’s definitely going to be an intense battle.”
There have certainly been some battles between the two, but do those contests rise to the level of a rivalry?
Traditional sports rivalries typically have two elements: an emotional aspect that transcends the routine head-to-head encounters on the field, and a prolonged period of battles in important encounters between the two sides.
In the case of the Crew vs. RSL, an emotional aspect likely entered the equation last season — at least for RSL, who may have felt disrespected by comments made by Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer last year.
[inline_node:329127]"They're walking around as a champion, saying they're the champion," Hesmer told The Columbus Dispatch after his team beat RSL early in the 2010 season. "They were sub-.500 last year. That doesn't sit well with us. We clearly think we've been the class of the league the past two years, and we wanted to prove it."
This comment reportedly became bulletin board material for the rematch later in the season, but both sides downplayed that factor after the match, which ended in a 2-0 RSL victory at Rio Tinto Stadium.
As far as an extended string of battles against each other in meaningful matches – well, it may be a bit early for that.
The two did face each other in an important first-round playoff match in 2009, a season in which the club finished as league champions, and this week's Champions League matchup may just move the clubs a step closer to a natural and full-fledged rivalry.
But what do those on the Real Salt Lake side think about the potential of this being a rivalry?
“Maybe a little bit, yeah," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. "You go back to not last year, but the year before in the playoffs. We faced each other, and we’ve had some heated exchanges in matches, both there and in Salt Lake.”
Current RSL defender and former Crew player Chris Wingert agreed.
“I think it makes sense a little bit," Wingert told MLSsoccer.com. "I think the biggest thing is that they won the championship and then we were able to go in and beat them at their place, and go on to win the championship ourselves.”
RSL midfielder Will Johnson, however, said he thinks rivalries are closely tied to history and that the league is still developing in this area.
"Do I think of Columbus as a rivalry? Off the top of my head, no, not really," Johnson said. "But over the last two to three years, we’ve had a lot of games with them. We’ve had a playoff series with them and some different things that have gone down, so you do think of Columbus as a team that’s sort of a rival? Maybe a budding rivalry is the right description.”
So whether it qualifies as a full-blown rivalry may depend on your individual perspective, but this Champions League series will undoubtedly add some fuel to the fire.