Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history

Bradley Wright-Phillips, Ebenezer Ofori - Red Bulls, NYCFC - Close up

To get you all geared up for what surely has to be the tastiest Heineken Rivalry Week menu MLS has ever seen, we decided to rank the most lethal derby killers in league history.

First, the parameters, which are sure to cause some uproar in the comments section. Nearly all of the rivalries considered for judging were local, intrastate or between clubs in neighboring jurisdictions. But we did allow a couple of long distance hate relationships (Chicago vs. New England and Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC). 

Not all teams have the same amount of applicable rivalries, and thus not all players have the same volume of these matches on offer. That was taken into account, but nobody was even up for an honorable mention unless they'd worked at least eight such contests.

Predictably, each MLS team younger than 2015 lacks enough derby history to get anyone in the top 25. Perhaps soon enough, though, as Josef Martinez has already tormented Orlando City to the tune of six goals in seven meetings and Atlanta United have a new southern rival coming on the scene next year. Likewise, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will soon knock hard on the door of this ranking, with his six goals and two otherworldly winning performances in his just four El Traficos.

The order isn't decided solely by production numbers; a subjective, highly amorphous judging criteria allowed for awarding bonus mojo for providing big offense in the biggest moments. Before we get started with the countdown, let's send shoutouts to several players who fell into the "close but no cigar" camp: Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel, Anthony de Avila, Edson Buddle, Clint Dempsey, Dwayne de Rosario, Roy Lassiter, Fredy Montero, Yura Movisisyan, Pat Noonan, Ben Olsen, Chris Pontius, Steve Ralston, Ante Razov, Chris Wondolowski and David Villa.

10) Eddie Johnson 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/11-1-DC-EJretires-eddie.jpg

While his career had some ups and down, the former US striker was almost always a handful in big rivalry matches. Johnson bagged seven goals in 11 total Cascadia bouts and hit for a pair in two Sporting KC games against Real Salt Lake, while managing one tally in four D.C. United rivalry games. He was toughest of all when playing for the Sounders against Portland, burying two derby winners among five goals in seven meetings.

9) Jaime Moreno 

The longtime D.C. United wizard is the only man on the list who played during the inaugural season. Moreno was a derby demon, notching 11 goals and as many assists in 30 Atlantic Cup showdowns against the Red Bulls, plus one more goal in two games while briefly playing on the New York side. In all, he scored or set up eight grudge match winners, with three coming in the playoffs.

8) Sebastian Giovinco 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/GiovincoMTL.jpg

It may be a surprise to see the Atomic Ant land this low, but really from here to the top three, there's very little to separate that group. Giovinco tormented Montreal time and again, logging 10 goals to go with seven helpers in 16 Canadian Classique tilts. Three of those strikes decided games, including a stoppage-time Canadian Championship title clincher in 2017.

7) Ignacio Piatti 

The Montreal Impact talisman and Giovinco were basically even, but we nudged Ignacio Piatti one rung higher for one simple reason: he had less help and often had to will his team to big derby results. To date, the Nacho man has accounted for 10 goals and seven assists in 18 Canadian Classique clashes. Those stats look even gaudier when you consider he has not scored in five Canadian Championship meetings. He certainly makes up for it during the MLS Cup Playoff action against Toronto FC, with a pair each of goals and assists from three thrilling playoff derbies.

6) Diego Valeri 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/ValeriChasesBall.jpg

The Timbers string-puller makes it three modern-era MLS guys who spent their entire league tenure with one team. That's been very nice for Portland, not so much for Seattle and Vancouver. From his No. 10 role, Diego Valeri has rung up 11 goals and 18 assists in 43 total Cascadia Cup tilts. In what is known as a tight three-way rivalry challenge, the Timbers are a relatively impressive 20-13-8 when the Argentinean starts, including 5-0-1 in the playoffs. 

5) Landon Donovan 

You probably knew it was just a matter of time before his name appeared here. As a youngster, Donovan scored three times in nine Cali Clasicos on the San Jose side, but his derby legend exploded after the move to Los Angeles. The USMNT star notched a ridiculous 14 goals and 17 assists in 18 local showdowns with Chivas USA and another 10 goals and six helpers in 21 games against the Earthquakes. Add it all together and that's better than a goal or assist per derby game, a benchmark few can match. 

4) Kenny Cooper 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/image_nodes/2013/06/USATSI_7283790_167117770_lowres.jpg

We go from an obvious call to "Really, though?" with this pick. Believe it, because even though Cooper floated around to six teams during his MLS time, the striker rarely forgot to bring his magic derby boots. Counting every rivalry in every stop, he fired 17 goals in 29 games. What's more, seven of those tallies were match-winners, including an extra-time job against Portland on Seattle's road the 2014 US Open Cup crown. He was feared most by Houston (seven strikes in 15 Texas derbies) and, albeit briefly, Philadelphia (five goals in three I-95 clashes as a Red Bull). 

3) Taylor Twellman 

The former New England Revolution star was relentlessly money in games against their biggest foes. Twellman hit 15 times in 17 derbies with Chicago, put up 13 goals in 20 MetroStars/Red Bulls showdowns and deposited 11 in 21 showdowns with D.C. United. Ten of those goals went down as winners, with four of those coming in playoff games. Twellman even found time to add eight (of just 29 career) assists in these pride battles.   

2) Robbie Keane 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Keane%20celebration%20vs.%20Sea.jpg

The LA Galaxy headliner only has 23 MLS derbies on his ledger, but he used them to pile up 16 goals and five assists against Chivas USA and San Jose. The Galaxy emerged victorious from a dozen of those derbies, and it was Keane who came up with the winner in half of those. Maybe for once, LAFC can thank their lucky stars, because they didn't show up until after the Irishman left.

1) Bradley Wright-Phillips 

Ahead of Rivalry Week, meet the deadliest derby players in MLS history - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/BradleyWrightPhillips_2018.jpg

All things considered, it just had to be the Red Bulls goal monster. Wright-Phillips has thus far traumatized New York City FC with 12 goals in 13 New York Derby matches, hit another dozen in 18 matches against D.C. United, put in eight in 17 games against Philly, and why not throw eight assists on top of it all. The Englishman boasts a 0.75 goals-per-derby rate, an obscene 14 winners (two in consecutive playoff ties against D.C. United) and, oh yeah, one triple-rally-for-a-draw hat trick (also making a victim of the Black-and-Red).

GOAL: Bradley Wright-Phillips scores on a backwards diving header