You know what sounds dumb, but fun? MLS rivalry power rankings.
Like a monkey banging on a keyboard, I jumped into Slack and excitedly pitched that very idea to my editors ahead of this weekend’s Heineken Rivalry Week. They, ever benevolent and kind, gently reminded me that I’d already written that column, a little more than a year ago. In my defense, May 2020 was a pandemic blur.
No point in writing a bunch of words again when you only care about the unscientific rankings. So here are my updated, sans-context, assume-I-hate-you-and-your-club MLS rivalry power rankings. You can see the changes since May 2020 in parentheses. You can tell me why I’m wrong on Twitter (andrew_wiebe). My logic in putting these together is that I don’t abide by any.
And now onto the Week 20 cheat sheet. Enjoy the soccer!
Can the Cali Clasico return to its roots?
WHEN: Friday, 10:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
BetMGM odds: LA (-125), Draw (+270), San Jose (+350)
Some random notes you might be interested in…
- The Galaxy and Greg Vanney are going for the season sweep at home
- Chicharito (2) and Quakes own goal (2) are the joint leading Cali Clasico scorers for 2021
- The last game Chicharito appeared for LA was the June 26 victory against the Quakes
I don’t expect this to be the game Javier Hernandez returns, which continues to be a bummer. This calf injury is proving to be a real buzzkill. The Mexican legend was the far-and-away story of the first third of the regular season … and his momentum is just gone. It is what it is at this point.
As for the Quakes, their last loss was nine games ago … to Chicharito and the Galaxy. How’s that for a quiet unbeaten streak? Why so quiet? Well, they’ve won just twice during that span, away against the Sounders and home against LAFC. This isn’t the 5-4 “What did I just watch?” San Jose of recent vintage. They haven’t been a part of a four-goal (or more) game since the first match of this streak, a 2-2 draw against Minnesota.
So there’s the context, now about those Cali Clasicos of old. Shea Salinas and Chris Wondolowski are still around, so some of the ingredients remain the same, but 1-0 wins by own goal and no-doubt blowouts aren’t going to get us back to Landon Donovan’s rivalry duality, Alan Gordon's back-post dunks or Stanford Stadium losing its ever-loving #$%&.
Outside of real, actionable, historic dislike between fans and players, what rivalries really need to thrive is a cohesive narrative – I know it’s my thing, but hear me out here – that everyone can process going into the match and through which the context is understood. For the Galaxy and San Jose, that’s always been the glitz, glam and stars/arrogance of the Galaxy vs. the everyman, “you don’t like us, but we like us, and we don’t need all that star-$#@%ing BS” vibes of the Quakes.
Again, Chicharito’s calf is really killing us. Hernandez is an ideal protagonist/antagonist for this rivalry, but maybe we don’t even need him. Give me Cade Cowell balling, Jeremy Ebobisse announcing himself and Matias Almeyda desperately fending off the Vanney season sweep. Give me Efrain Alvarez and Julian Araujo making their names in this rivalry, Jonathan dos Santos taking no prisoners and the Samuel Grandsir to Kevin Cabral French connection.
The Cali Clasico might be No. 7 in my current rankings, but it can climb. The game just has to deliver.
How Daniel Salloi can win MVP…
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
BetMGM odds: Minnesota (+130), Draw (+230), Kansas City (+220)
Every single time these teams play, I hope the Nicest Rivalry in Sports tag dies a grisly death. Screw being nice. I want Minnesota Mean. Give me Kansas City Kicks A**. Rivalries aren’t nice. They’re rivalries! Think Roger Espinoza was nice to Kyle Beckerman and Javi Morales and visa versa? Maybe we need some preseason action behind closed doors to really get this one popping.
That said, nice has a place in the world. An important one!
You can be nice at the tailgate when somebody with a different jersey on shows up. You can be nice to the opposing fan looking for a good place to go to get a beer and a bite after the game. You should be polite off the field, because at the end of the day it’s just 22 guys kicking a ball and we’re all just soccer fans looking for connection in this messed up world. But on the field? C’mon. No more Mr. Nice Guys.
Anyways, Daniel Salloi seems like a nice young man, the sort your mom likes but you know has an edgy side he brings out when moms aren’t paying attention. You know, like no-looking a goal in the playoffs (perhaps summoning a Soccer God curse in the process) or giddily filming Johnny Russell stomping and breaking Gianluca Busio’s windshield. Or literally anytime he’s within shooting or crossing range.
The 25-year-old Hungarian’s MVP case went under the microscope on Extratime this week, and that was before he rescued a point at home against the Timbers to take his 2021 numbers for 12 goals and six assists. Nobody has been more directly involved in goals scored (18), whether via his own foot or a setup, this year than Salloi.
Here’s the truth, whether you can accept it or not (looking at you, Sporting KC folk). Salloi is a wonderful player having a wonderful, bounce-back-from-mysteriously-poor-to-Best-XI season, but he won’t win MVP head-to-head against Carles Gil or Raul Ruidiaz, assuming Gil comes back relatively soon and Ruidiaz keeps doing Ruidiaz stuff. I know how the politics in this league work. I am telling you it won’t happen … unless nobody can match his goals + assist numbers and Sporting KC finish top of the West.
That’s his Landon Donovan MVP case, should he somehow keep this pace going through the end of the year. Bring that edge against Minnesota – and the rest of the year – and he’s got a real chance.
Was MLS Cup 2020 a fluke?
WHEN: Saturday, 5:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: FOX, FOX Deportes
BetMGM odds: Columbus (+140), Draw (+250), Seattle (+190)
From last year’s MLS Cup at Historic Crew Stadium, these clubs are on divergent paths. The Crew seem to be in the process of folding amid the additional expectations and the spotlight that comes with lifting silverware. That spotlight is old hat for the Sounders. They’re thriving under the unrelenting heat of the bulb.
Joe Lowery summed up the Crew’s struggles this week. That piece felt spot on even before Columbus lost 1-0 on Wednesday to the Red Bulls. This is a no-pun-intended massive home game for Caleb Porter. Beat the Sounders, and the Crew as a potential 2021 contender is believable again. Lose and disappoint yet again – what would be a sixth straight loss – and who knows if the defending champs will even make the playoffs.
How about some more bad news? Gyasi Zardes has a “soft tissue injury” from the midweek loss against the Red Bulls. Nobody can credibly argue Porter’s squad hasn’t been decimated by injury this year. Nobody said clawing their way back won’t be hard.
As for the Sounders, I can only respect the flex from Brian Schmetzer. He slow-played FC Dallas. Here come Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodiero after the flop, and the goal arrives mere seconds later. Cruel stuff.
We keep saying it, but the Sounders are only going to get better. Can they challenge New England for the Supporters’ Shield? I wouldn’t even try if I was Schmetzer, and I love the Shield. If they keep doing what they’re doing, the rewards will come. Must be nice to be a spoiled Sounders supporter.
Yes, that’s a compliment.
Who carries the NY rivalry torch?
WHEN: Saturday, 8 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes
BetMGM odds: RBNY (+240), Draw (+280), NYCFC (+105)
This is some Yung Cletus swag from John “Do we have any peroxide in the medicine cabinet?” Tolkin.
The guys who made this rivalry what it is took it personally, particularly on the Red Bulls side. Does it feel personal now? Is that lack of juice just the pandemic disrupting the rhythm of the rivalry, the subway/PATH journeys and the competitive balance? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not.
As always with rivalries, I go back to narrative. When this one started, it was a battle for the metro area. The Red Bulls didn’t want to be pushed aside by the new guys from City Football Group/Yankee Stadium. Was New York red or was it blue? Jesse Marsch’s boys were a veteran team with big goals. They cared about how they were perceived, and they very clearly enjoyed laying the wood on their new rivals and seeing the Empire State Building blaze red.
That wood laying created the next narrative: the Red Bull yoke of dominance. NYCFC threw that off, and here we are in a new era that’s floundering for context and the personalities that make rivalries tick.
So what do we have now? A Red Bulls team that’s scuffling along without any real dominant personalities and an NYCFC team that probably ought to be better than it is. We need some juice. Somebody’s got to lose themselves in the moment, own it. Never let it go. You get one shot.
I’m looking at you, John.