Rivalry Week

Rivalry Week: Which stars will decide derby matches?


Say it with me now: Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire is here.

Over the next week and change, we’re going to be treated to some of the best rivalries from around the league. We’re talking Hell is Real, the Cascadia Cup, the Hudson River Derby, a Florida Derby, and much more.

Today, I’m diving into six of the biggest matchups and spotlighting one star from each team who could have an outsized impact on the game for one reason or another.

Let’s get to it.

Columbus Crew vs. FC Cincinnati
Matchday 13
  • WHEN: Saturday, May 11 | 7:45 pm ET
  • WATCH: Apple TV - Free; FS1/FOX Deportes

Cucho Hernández, Columbus Crew

Wilfried Nancy’s tactical nous gets exactly as much love as it should, which is to say it gets a lot of love. But I wonder: Does the Nancy praise get in the way of acknowledging just how good Cucho continues to be for the Columbus Crew? After all, games are won by the players – any manager worth their salt will tell you that.

It’s good news for the Crew, then, that Cucho is very, very good at winning games.

So few forwards in MLS can equal the Colombian’s mixture of off-ball movement and on-ball chance creation. Cucho’s tendency to drift towards the left wing before cutting inside onto his favored right foot has become a real trend in 2024. We’ve seen it in huge moments:

Expect to see Columbus try to isolate their star man against the outside center backs in Cincy’s back three.

Luciano Acosta, FC Cincinnati

With so much chaos going in the forward position group, Acosta has maintained his stranglehold on FC Cincinnati’s attack. Pat Noonan won’t have any gripes about that fact, given the five goals and five primary assists the Argentine has totaled through the first third of the season. Looking at the underlying numbers, Acosta is in the 94th percentile for non-penalty expected goals plus expected assisted goals per 90 minutes among his positional peers, according to FBref.

He’s been every bit the genius Cincinnati need at the tip of their midfield and will give the Crew’s double pivot fits.

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC
Matchday 13
  • WHEN: Sunday, May 12 | 4:45 pm ET
  • WATCH: Apple TV - Free; FOX/FOX Deportes

Maxime Crépeau, Portland Timbers

When you’ve allowed two or more goals in seven straight games, it’s only natural to look towards the back for signs of life.

Since joining from LAFC in the offseason, Crépeau has already had his fill of ups and downs in goal. He’s saving 0.23 goals above expected per 90, according to FBref, which is an entirely respectable figure. But the Canadian also committed a red-card offense against his former team last month and hasn’t done enough to bail out an under-performing defensive structure. That needs to change against Seattle.

Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders FC

Only one Seattle Sounder has more than a single non-penalty goal this year.

That player is Raúl Ruidíaz, a 33-year-old veteran who was partially phased out of the lineup last year and was supposed to be almost fully phased out this year. Due to a slew of injuries, Ruidíaz is still a key player for Seattle. But a boost from Jordan Morris would sure help get the Sounders’ transition away from the Peruvian back on track.

Morris has just one goal this year and his underlying numbers are good, but not great and are down from last year. The Sounders are settling for too many crosses from wide (they lead the league in crosses per 90, according to FBref), and need more of the American’s direct running to target central spaces behind the opposing defense.

If there’s a get-right game coming for Morris, it’ll come against the wide-open Timbers.

Orlando City SC vs. Inter Miami CF
Matchday 14

Duncan McGuire, Orlando City SC

Okay, I’ve pretty much given up on Orlando City creating a ton of clear-cut chances via pretty possession play. Playing without a consistent, starting-level No. 10, Orlando are only behind the Sounders in terms of crosses per 90 in MLS this year.

But you know what? The Lions won’t need pretty possession play to cause problems for Miami.

They’ll need a better defensive performance than the one we were treated to against their in-state foes earlier this year, sure. In the attack, though, it’s all about Orlando’s ability to break in behind Tata Martino’s aggressive center backs. If Duncan McGuire can slip in behind and test Miami in transition, Orlando's final-third inefficiencies won’t matter quite so much.

Lionel Messi, Inter Miami CF


The dude just dropped six goal contributions in one half. Any conversation about Inter Miami players who are primed to have an outsized impact on a given match has to start and end with the greatest of all time. I mean, Messi just bashed one of the best defensive teams in MLS without hardly breaking a sweat:

It’s everything we expected when Messi joined Inter Miami last summer, but somehow that doesn’t make it any less amazing. Orlando already shipped five goals to Miami back in March. Maybe they’ll tighten up and only concede three this time?

Austin FC vs. Houston Dynamo FC
Matchday 14

Sebastián Driussi, Austin FC

It’s subtle, but there’s been a shift in how Driussi is being used in Josh Wolff’s system this season. The Argentine is picking up the ball a little more often and a little deeper this year than last – according to FBref, he’s averaging three more touches per 90 while averaging two fewer touches in the final third. He’s hitting more progressive passes and more passes into that final-third space, functioning more as a playmaker and less as a receiver than he did in 2023.

This possession shift has hurt Driussi's final-third output, but we’re likely to get plenty of magical moments in the middle third from Austin’s star against the Dynamo.

Héctor Herrera, Houston Dynamo FC

Without Herrera in their starting lineup until this past weekend, this Houston Dynamo squad was crying out for a touch of quality in possession. Under Ben Olsen, Houston have a remarkably clear 3-2-5 attacking structure and obvious progression principles that lead them to the final third. Once they’re there, though, things get dicey. Herrera hasn’t played more than 45 minutes in a single game just yet and the Dynamo are second-to-last in the league in non-penalty xG.

They need Herrera to take control against their in-state rivals.

New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls
Matchday 15

Santiago Rodríguez, NYCFC

It’s not exactly breaking news at this point, but in case you haven’t heard: the Red Bulls don’t press any more. Well, that’s not entirely true. But they’re a bottom-third pressing team based on Opta’s PPDA metric.

What does that mean for New York City? Well, it means Santi Rodríguez will have to put on his playmaking hat to break down what’s likely to be a somewhat reserved 4-4-2 block.

Rodríguez has been NYCFC’s best creator in 2024, but may need to find another gear as striker Mounsef Bakrar continues to miss chances at an alarming rate.

Emil Forsberg, New York Red Bulls

When they added Emil Forsberg from RB Leipzig over the winter, the hope for the New York branch of Red Bull Global was he’d help them win games like this one. Well-weighted through balls coming from the Swede should give RBNY a constant transition threat against a New York City team that’s built to enjoy a bit more of the ball.

Forsberg is just the sort of point guard the Red Bulls needed to elevate themselves towards the top of the Eastern Conference:

Toronto FC vs. CF Montréal
Matchday 15

Federico Bernardeschi, Toronto FC

After finally getting on the board with a pair of goals against FC Dallas on Saturday, I’m curious to see if the dam has finally broken for Federico Bernardeschi.

There’s no doubt the Italian DP is one of the best ball-strikers on this side of the Atlantic – his second goal against Dallas was an absolute scorcher.

How effectively Bernardeschi moves from the right wing, where he’s asked to hold the width in John Herdman’s flexible 3-2-5 attacking shape, into the halfspace to pull off sequences at least roughly resembling the one above, is one of the big questions for Toronto moving forward. How Bernardeschi’s teammates move around him in the final third and in rest defense is the other.

Ruan, CF Montréal

With Bernardeschi tilting his team’s shape so far towards one side, there’s almost always space for a weak-side runner to cause problems for Toronto FC’s defense. That’s where Ruan will come into play for CF Montréal. Laurent Courtois’ right wingback should have ample room and opportunity to get on the end of a quick switch from one of his teammates before knifing into the heart of a recovering defense.

Given how light this Montréal squad is in the attack right now, Ruan will have to play a big part against Toronto.