Original Text — June 25, 2015
Everyone loves to cheer for their team. But sometimes the bad guys on the other side make it that much more fun to root against them in addition to rooting for your side.
Major League Soccer's first two decades saw several matchups grow into heated, hard-edged showdowns, and much of it was fueled by the instigations of prominent antagonists who were loved by one club and hated by the other.
With Heineken Rivalry Week approaching, here's our take on five of the most memorable villains in that bunch. Share your own favorites — we want to know!
Carlos Ruiz — FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo
Known as "El Pescadito" ("the little fish") thanks to his slipperiness in the penalty box and proclivity for flopping, Carlos Ruiz is one of the keenest competitors and greatest goalscorers in MLS history, with 89 league tallies to his name, not to mention his 16 playoff goals, second only to Landon Donovan in that category.
He is also a nomad who played for five different MLS clubs – and about a dozen in all – over his long career. Everywhere Ruiz goes, he seems to go out of his way to irritate opposing defenders with his physical holdup play, cunning dives and unpredictable nature. When he joined FC Dallas from the LA Galaxy in the prime of his career, he was like fuel on the fire in FCD's newly-established cross-state rivalry with the Houston Dynamo.
The Little Fishy's antics finally drove Houston's Ricardo Clark over the edge when the two sides met on a hot September day at FCD's Toyota Stadium in 2007. After Ruiz drove his knee into Clark's back as a Dallas free kick was curled into the Dynamo box, Clark was the first to leap to his feet, and the enraged midfielder immediately landed a kick to the prone Ruiz's shoulder before teammates dragged him away.
True to form, Ruiz reacted by grabbing his face as he threw himself around the goalmouth in apparent agony. Both men were red-carded, but Clark was later suspended for an additional nine games (including the entire 2007 playoffs) and fined $10,000, the stiffest discipline in MLS history at the time. Thankfully, the duo eventually reconciled.
Pablo Mastroeni — Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake
The Rapids and Real are linked by their elevated altitudes and proximity as neighboring states. But there wasn't a human element to their Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry – which was founded by the clubs' respective supporters' groups – until Mastroeni trolled the RSL home fans on Sept. 2, 2006.
After Colorado clinched that year's RMC with a dramatic 1-0 win over RSL at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the longtime Rapids captain, now their head coach, celebrated with his teammates a bit too much in the eyes of then-owner Dave Checketts and some of his club's fans. Mastroeni took off his shirt, stuffed it down his shorts, aimed a few lewd gestures towards the fans and was confronted by an angry Checketts as the two exchanged some choice words while the crowd jeered.
"It was like, 'Here's your rivalry now,'" said Kyle Beckerman, a Rapid at the time who later become an RSL icon. "And it just so happened that this is what happened in that game, which made it huge. It made it like, 'OK, we hate you guys.'
"It was the perfect thing to happen for an early rivalry."
It's worth noting that RSL subsequently struck back with six consecutive RMC triumphs in the ensuing seasons and lead the all-time annual series 8-4.
Jaime Moreno — D.C. United vs. New York
While the Red Bulls have gotten their hands on it a bit more often lately, the Atlantic Cup spent most of its early days in the nation's capital, and Moreno was a big reason why.
A midseason arrival to D.C. in the league's inaugural campaign, the Bolivian became a club hero dubbed "The Godfather of Goals" – and over the years he always seemed to save his best for the MetroStars and later, the Red Bulls. United fans savor the time he embarrassed goalkeeper Jonny Walker in a 6-2 D.C. win in 2004 and the one in 2005 where he nutmegged Jeff Agoos before scoring the capper in a 4-1 United rout.
But what really enraged the New York faithful was the single season Moreno spent in MetroStars colors. Arriving via trade after a falling-out with D.C. coach Ray Hudson, he lost nearly the entire season to injuries, playing just 517 minutes and scoring two goals over 11 matches – though he did score one against United, in a profoundly weird Metros win on July 5.
Written off as finished, Moreno revamped his training regimen over the offseason and rejoined D.C., where he skyrocketed back to top form so dramatically that he is still called a "double agent" by Red Bulls supporters.
Landon Donovan — LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes
For much of its existence, the California Clasico has been one of the most intense matchups in the league, with dramatic results and clashes both on the field and in the stands. Much of the heat can be traced back to LD.
The US national team legend built his club career as an Earthquakes wunderkind, stacking up 32 goals and 29 assists in regular-season play, 10 and 5 in the playoffs – and four goals in 12 games against the Galaxy – during a four-year stint in San Jose from 2001-04 that featured two MLS Cup titles.
He did plenty of that damage against the LA Galaxy.
But after his short-lived and unhappy return to Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, Donovan transferred to his hometown club in SoCal in 2005. He was taken aback by a nasty reception on his first game back at Spartan Stadium, where Quakes fans booed him lustily and held aloft signs dubbing him "Judas," "Traitor," "Scum" and the like.
Afterwards he admitted to being shaken by the fans' bitterness. But Donovan went on to become a thorn in the side of his old team, helping the Galaxy upset the Supporters' Shield champions in the 2005 playoffs and notching eight goals and seven assists in 17 career games against the Quakes and winning four more MLS Cup titles.
Roger Levesque, Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
An easygoing personality off the field, Levesque is a fan favorite in Seattle, one of a select few players who served with distinction on both sides of the move up from USL to MLS in 2009. But the versatile, hard-working Levesque was – and still is – loathed with nearly as much force in Portland, thanks to a history of timely goals – and provocative celebrations – against the Timbers in USL, MLS and US Open Cup play.
He scored dozens of goals in his Rave Green career, including the game-winner in their first Open Cup championship win in '09 and one against New York that he marked with his famous "scuba" celebration.
But the one that Sounders fans cherish most came a year prior, at the Timbers' home ground in an Open Cup clash on July 1. Levesque thumped home a header just 48 seconds after the opening whistle, then celebrated with his best impression of falling timber as teammate Nate Jaqua hacked him down with an invisible axe.
"Put the right makeup on him, and he could look like the Joker from Batman," said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid of Levesque earlier this year. "You become a hero or you become a villain to certain fanbases depending on what you do in games, and obviously he scored some big goals against Portland."