What you need to know

Philadelphia Union sign 14-year-old homegrown star Cavan Sullivan

Philadelphia Union have signed midfielder Cavan Sullivan through 2028 to the largest homegrown player deal in MLS history, the club announced Thursday. Sullivan, at 14 years and 224 days, is the fifth-youngest signing in MLS history. The United States youth international standout is the younger brother of fellow Union homegrown midfielder, Quinn Sullivan.

SKC, Seattle and LAFC advance to USOC Round of 16

Four MLS teams debuted in the 2024 US Open Cup Wednesday, with Sporting Kansas City, LAFC and Seattle Sounders FC advancing to the Round of 16. Real Salt Lake came up short against New Mexico United.

Toronto FC cruise in Canadian Championship opener

Toronto FC got their Canadian Championship campaign off to a flying start, with a convincing away win one day after Vancouver Whitecaps FC and CF Montréal earned positive road results in the opening leg of the two-legged quarterfinals. Toronto FC scored three times after halftime to cruise to a 3-0 victory over Ligue1 Québec side CS Saint-Laurent.

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Who needs this more on Saturday?

Yesterday, to commemorate the start of Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire, we talked about the upcoming Hell Is Real matchup and traveling in inclement weather with total confidence in your vehicle’s ability to stop safely. Saturday’s matchup between Columbus and FC Cincinnati is setting up to be the biggest rivalry game of the season. Each club holds a major trophy, each club has a fantastic team, and each club is desperate to claim control over the state of Ohio, thereby claiming control over the entire world. It’s a big one between two of the league’s best.

But what about those who are desperate? What if you had a rivalry matchup where both teams are backed into a corner, scared, alone and looking for a way out? What if both teams would opt for mutually assured destruction rather than see the other be slightly happier than they were before?

You might have guessed it, but it’s time to talk about Sunday’s Portland-Seattle game.

I’d like to start by discussing a rivalry folks outside the South may not be familiar with. “The Egg Bowl” is an annual college gridiron football game between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. Neither team is very good. There are typically no conference titles, playoff berths or other major prizes at stake. But that has never once stopped this game from being the single most important date on each team’s schedule, has never once stopped this game from spiraling into a sometimes literal and always metaphorical mud-wrestling competition and has never once led to anyone on either side making good decisions. It’s… it’s beautiful. And it means everything to the folks involved with each school.

I’d like to think there’s a little Egg Bowl in this version of Portland-Seattle. While there have been long stretches of MLS dominance from both of these teams in years past, this season presents us with versions looking to make things right... because they're not going great. Both teams are entering this one on 0.91 points per game after 10 matches. Seattle have a goal differential of zero while Portland have a goal differential of negative three. Seattle have the third-worst goal-scoring record in the West, Portland have allowed more goals than all but one team in the West. Seattle have one win in their last five games, Portland have one win in their last nine. These are not two juggernauts on a collision course that will define the season. But the intense dislike for each other isn’t going anywhere.

In this case, though, there’s a key difference in the sporting nature of both rivalries. The Egg Bowl (it’s called that because the football on the trophy awarded to the winning team kind of looks like an egg, I’m not kidding) is the very last game of each team’s regular season. Portland and Seattle still have plenty to play for this year.

In theory, anyway. It’s MLS, after all. They’re technically only three points out of a Wild Card spot. Things can change in an instant. But I’m going to guess both teams have a clear idea of what path their sides are on right now. Seattle fans are likely at least semi-aware of the fact their underlying numbers suggest their terrible start has been more mirage than reality. Based on the chances they’ve created and allowed, American Soccer Analysis has their expected points per game rate at 1.56. It’s the second-largest disparity between underlying numbers and on-field results in the league right now. There are plenty of reasons to believe the Sounders will sort this out, get Pedro de la Vega back in the lineup, and be just fine in the end, even if they didn’t live up to their lofty expectations this season.

Portland, to put it nicely, don't have the same outlook. At 0.91 points per game, they’re actually outperforming their expected point total by 0.02. They’re right where the numbers say they should be and the roster isn’t coming together like they’d hoped. There’s work to do for the Timbers.

That might be great news for Portland. There’s far more joy available to them this weekend. A win over Seattle sends a simple message: Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck down here with us. A Seattle win just gives Sounders fans a brief wave of relief before they go back to stressing about whether or not they’ve finally turned the corner. Timbers fans are free.

Plus, a Timbers result means they get to keep reminding Seattle that the Sounders haven’t won this matchup since Aug. 15, 2021. The Timbers have four wins and two draws in the six games since then. Keeping that streak alive is the kind of thing that makes a season worth it.

So who has more to play for? The answer is no one. And everyone. And who cares, as long as the other team has to wallow in unhappiness for a while? The true nature of rivalry is finding joy in misery. Isn’t it beautiful?

And other things

Crew take top spot in Concacaf Club Rankings: The Columbus Crew are now the No. 1 team in the region according to the latest Concacaf Club Rankings, which awards points for results in official domestic league matches, regional cup matches, and Concacaf Champions Cup play.

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Good luck out there. Start off strong.