As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
7 - Number of fan-created trophies contested each year by MLS teams
Over the years, Major League Soccer has often had to bridge the gap between the sporting traditions of the United States and Canada, and those of the global sport which it is charged with representing in its home countries.
That led to the adaptation of some particularly North American trappings such as drafts, playoffs and All-Star games, while on the other hand introducing concepts like Golden Boots, international breaks and tifo from abroad.
There is one notable area that needed little to no translation, however: local and regional rivalries which add an extra edge to annual meetings of geographic or historical antagonists.
The NCAA football teams from the University of Washington and Washington State fight for the Apple Cup every year, for example, just as their region’s soccer clubs tussle over the Cascadia Cup, contested every year by the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Los Angeles’ crosstown duel between USC and UCLA earns the winner possession of the “Victory Bell,” and Home Depot Center rivals Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy tussle for SuperClasico honors.
By our count, seven of the league’s fan rivalries are represented with physical hardware: the Atlantic, Cascadia, Rocky Mountain, Trillium and Brimstone cups, as well as the SoCal SuperClasico and Texas Derby.
(In true Texas style, that last one is the biggest and surely the hardest to transport, a full-size replica 18th-century mountain howitzer cannon known as El Capitán.)
This is not to denigrate other side competitions fought over across MLS. The Earthquakes and Galaxy have a rich, spiteful history represented by the “California Clasico” but not manifested in a trophy per se, while the three Canadian sides take part in the Canadian Championship to determine both bragging rights and placement in the CONCACAF Champions League. That honor is represented by the Voyageurs Cup, which is no longer fan-run, the Canadian national team supporters group of the same name having turned it over to the Canadian Soccer Association in 2008.
With a few exceptions, MLS trophies tend to evolve organically. The Atlantic Cup is the oldest such award, the product of a litany of tight, ill-tempered meetings between D.C. United and the MetroStars, the New York Red Bulls’ Gotham-area predecessors, in the league’s early years, while the Brimstone Cup was conceived after the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) and Chicago Fire had some incandescent clashes to match their scorching nicknames.
The Cascadia Cup goes back even further, to 2004, when the three clubs fought in the USL A-League, later known as the USL First Division, before eventually making their way to MLS over the ensuing seven years. The Trillium Cup between Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew can’t boast the same history, but organizers are hoping that heated action on the field will combine with Great Lakes-area proximity to raise the stakes over the years.
Will other fan-created trophies bubble to the surface to add to these seven? Perhaps – but in a league where most conference rivals now meet three times a year, it will take something special to break into the current ruling class of cups.