The soccer media can’t create rivalries, or so I’ve been told. Repeatedly, actually.
Just because there’s a bass-heavy video, a column or two — perhaps written by yours truly! — and a couple talking heads parachuting in from the league office, doesn’t make something (buzzword alert) authentic. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks but the players and supporters. If they care, labels aren’t necessary. We’ll just know.
Seeing is believing. I believe that. Real rivalries are born and nurtured naturally, via long-standing tradition, geography, competitive animosity or a combination of all three. They’re not Frankensteins created in an MLSsoccer.com laboratory.
Fortunately for us — and this column — MLS has rivalries. Real ones. Enough to dedicate an entire week to the celebration of games that up the ante no matter when they’re played.
I’m here to tell you that Heineken Rivalry Week is the third-best week on the regular-season calendar, behind only opening day and Decision Day presented by AT&T. We’re about to embark on 15 games in five days, nine unquestioned rivalry matches – 10 if you count Sporting KC-Minnesota United, as I do, the “nicest” rivalry in MLS – and playoff implications from top to bottom.
It all starts Wednesday, even if some folks will tell you the league’s oldest rivalry is fading away; That Wednesday night is out of sight and out of mind, a rivalry backwater. That you can’t hold the Atlantic Cup back, baby! Unless you’re the MLSsoccer.com narrative machine or the league schedule makers, apparently. C’mon!
Like Bill Hamid, I’m still here for D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls (8 pm ET | UniMas, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). I remember Ben Olsen chomping at the bit to play a playoff game in a blizzard. I never get tired of the “Cheating Bob” story. I remember who won all the titles in the league’s early years … and who didn’t. Alecko Eskandarian didn’t spit that energy drink out for naught.
Has the New York Derby diluted the passion and the all-encompassing focus on the match? Depends on who you ask, I guess. “I would say that I don’t stress it as much as I probably did 10 years ago,” Olsen told Pablo Maurer at The Athletic this week. Never thought I’d hear that from one of the Atlantic Cup’s main protagonists over the years.
Then again, so what?
The rivalry is in an ebb, but that doesn’t mean the animosity can’t flow again. Why not tonight? I know a player who knows a little something about winding people up. His name is Felipe. He happens to have switched sides, and with both teams fighting for playoff positioning, it shouldn’t take much to light the old Atlantic Cup fuse. All it takes is a spark.
Matter of fact, Wayne Rooney seems to on edge lately. Luciano Acosta and Aaron Long, too. Quincy Amarikwa plays head games. Kaku isn’t shy. Paul Arriola, neither. Hamid? Zero question he’ll be up for this one.
And hey, maybe LAFC and San Jose will start to build a history of their own in the nightcap (10:30 pm ET | UniMas, Twitter, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). What if the Quakes throw it back to July and overrun LAFC? What if Matias Almeyda’s man-marking scheme gets under Carlos Vela’s skin? What if San Jose go to Los Angeles and get a little payback for that dramatic 4-3 lose at Avaya Stadium last summer?
What if we don’t put pressure on it to become a rivalry immediately? What if we just let two good teams slug it out and see if the ingredients fall into place?
Same goes for Minnesota’s visit to Kansas City on Thursday (9:30 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). Sporting are desperate. Minnesota aren’t as secure you might think in 2nd place. Every single point matters for both, and that urgency could take this rivalry, previously a U.S. Open Cup tradition, go from “nice” to something else entirely.
I could see Roger Espinoza and Ozzie Alonso getting into it. I could see Adrian Heath and Peter Vermes doing some alpha-male jawing on the sideline. I could see Ike Opara having some fun with fellow BS Podcast host Benny Feilhaber should the opportunity arise. I know Erik Hurtado is ready to get stuck in. Sporting could knock the Loons all the way down into 6th, depending on results. If they do it with a little swagger, now we’re talking.
Atlanta United know a little something about smack talk. Just cue up that Josef Martinez Instagram story.
Orlando City still haven’t beaten Atlanta United. Orlando City would like to bring Atlanta United back down to earth (and out of first place). Orlando City get a chance to do both in front of The Wall on Friday night. If All-Star is any indication, those supporters will welcome Martinez, Brad Guzan and the rest of the Five Stripes with boos and maybe more.
Do I really need to explain why Portland-Seattle, NYCFC-Red Bulls or the Canadian Clasique naturally brew fire in the belly of players and supporters? Why all indications are that Hell Is Real? Why the Rapids would love to peg back RSL in the Rocky Mountain Cup?
How about why the Dynamo will be buzzing to go to Dallas with a new head coach and the opportunity to improve their own playoff stead as the expense of their Texas Derby opponents? What’s hard to understand about El Trafico? Zlatan seems to be building that rivalry from the ground up.
No, there are no Frankensteins to see here.
You were right. Soccer media don’t create rivalries. The truth is we don’t need to. They’re already here. They’re the real deal, and they’re center stage all week. Don’t believe me? Just watch.