Major League Soccer needs more heels. We need villains.
Forget warm and fuzzy, give me players whose mere mention makes folks downright irrational. Give me guys who bask in the hate. I want players who inspire curse words, who make you want to punch a wall, who live rent free in their rival’s mental real estate.
Also: Please don’t actually punch a wall.
Our teams, our rivalries, our league needs someone to love and also someone to hate. Sports are better that way. It raises the stakes. It makes everything personal. It forces you to choose a side. Villains ought to be celebrated, and I’m doing just that as Heineken Rivalry Week transitions into a jam-packed weekend of classic games. For me, this is a labor of love, not hate.
Don’t pay too much attention to the order, since I just reversed my Rivalry Power Rankings. The games at the bottom of the rankings need villains to take off again, and ones at the top have some open positions thanks to high-profile departures. I’ve taken a shot at naming all-time, current and potential antagonists. You’ll have your own opinion. Get in my mentions.
Rocky Mountain Cup
All-time villain: Pablo Mastroeni
Between the 2006 postgame brouhaha with then-Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts at Rice-Eccles – the spark that made this rivalry truly organic – and Mastroeni’s no-holds-barred playing style, he’s got RMC legend status for life.
Current villain: Kyle Beckerman
Beckerman was there for Mastroeni’s RSL trolling, only he was a Rapid at the time. He remembers it this way: “It made it like, 'OK, we hate you guys.'”
He hated them, then he got traded to Utah, ushering in a decade of utter Rocky Mountain Cup dominance for the Claret and Cobalt. Beckerman’s got bark, he’s got plenty of bite and he’s willing to pop off a little in the media. He’s the face of this rivalry, for now.
Potential villain: Kei Kamara
For the sake of the rivalry, the RMC’s next “villain” needs to be a Rapids player. Someone who is a natural showman (on the field and off). Someone who can impact the games in a big way and deliver a big moment or three. Someone who isn’t afraid to demand respect and talk some trash. Someone who will embrace the media side of building the game up. Someone an opposing fan could convince themselves to hate.
The only someone I see is Kamara.
All-time villain: Carlos Ruiz
You better believe that FC Dallas fans didn’t appreciate how Eddie Robinson seemed to take extra pleasure in kicking their guys. But nobody got so riled up by the Dynamo center back that they momentarily lost their mind, hauled off and kicked him while he was down like Ricardo Clark did to Pescadito. Clark wasn’t, you’ll be shocked to know, innocent in the incident.
Current villain: N/A
Name one. You can’t. There’s no truly-hateable player on either side right now. It’s a big reason why the Texas Derby is simmering quietly and not boiling.
Potential villain: Zdenek Ondrasek
I’m reaching here. None of the FC Dallas Homegrowns are going to be lightning rods. Neither team has an enforcer or unquestioned brute in the midfield or backline. Ondrasek seems like he has some personality, a willingness to mix it up physically and a knack for scoring big goals. Maybe I’m just saying this because his ink gives him bad-boy potential, even though he seems like a perfectly nice guy.
To create a villain, the Texas Derby needs a perfect-storm moment, a couple years of absolute battles on the field or a new face willing to assume the mantle. Maybe Austin FC can help deliver some extra hot sauce in 2021.
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City
All-time villain: Josef Martinez
Nobody in the current era of MLS embraces the snarling villain role quite like Josef. He doesn’t just enjoy being the guy that gets under Orlando City’s skin, he lives for it. He dominates. He sulks. He mocks. He lets Orlando City players and supporters know what’s up when Atlanta wins a U.S. Open Cup semifinal or he breaks the single-season scoring record at Exploria Stadium.
Current villain: Josef Martinez
Potential villain: Dom Dwyer
Love him or hate him, Dwyer makes just about everybody feel some kinda way. The best part is that your opinion is like water on a duck’s back. Dom doesn’t care what you think, and that’s prime heel material. He’s gonna scrap and get in people’s faces. He’s gonna look for contact, sometimes in the box. He’s going to have a celebration ready for the big moment. The Lions need to to beat the Five Stripes. Could Dwyer be the one who delivers, both on the field and off?
All-time villain: Jaime Moreno
To borrow the words of Charlie Boehm, who already did the damn thing and knows more about this matchup than I ever will…
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.
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.
Current villain: NA
As the rivalry has waned, so has the villainy.
Potential villain: Felipe
Villains must accept and relish their role. Felipe knows that he’s a polarizing figure, and he welcomes it. He wants his opponents to hate playing against him. It’s a big part of what’s made him so successful in MLS, and he was at his pesky peak for three years of Red Bulls’ dominance over D.C. After a brief stint in Vancouver, he’s on the other side of the Atlantic Cup, ready to redirect his energy back on his old team.
All-time villain: Landon Donovan
I went to California and wrote 4,500 words on Donovan’s “complicated” legacy, plus his MLS career split between the Earthquakes and the Galaxy, but I feel as though I only scratched the surface of the emotions fans hold dear. The pain runs deep in San Jose, and the five-ring elitism is at the Galaxy’s core. LD is the biggest figure in the history of both clubs, a hero or a villain depending on who you ask.
Current villain: NA
Steven Lenhart was definitely hated by Galaxy supporters and players during his Goonies prime. Jelle Van Damme held the title for a year or two when he was in LA. Now? Chris Wondolowski is the best candidate, but I’m not sure Galaxy supporters truly hate the Quakes legend.
Potential villain: Matias Almeyda
I’ve stuck to players so far, but there’s just something about Almeyda that makes me think he could step into the role. He’s brutally honest in the media, demonstrative on the sidelines and his preferred style of play leads to some mano-a-mano clashes.
Hell is Real
All-time villain: NA
Not enough games, not enough time to build up hard feelings or engender them. Look to the supporters’ sections for the faces of this rivalry. This is more about the people and the cities than any individual player on the field.
Current villain: NA
Potential villain: Fanendo Adi
That’d be incredible drama, but it probably won’t happen, which means Caleb Porter is my personal favorite. He’ll be involved for longer than Adi, and he just has a way of riling up opposing supporters from the sideline and the press-conference room. If the Crew dominate on the field and Porter gloats off it, Cincy folks are going to get bitter fast.
Hudson River Derby
All-time villain: Bradley Wright-Phillips
I’m not sure he’s a traditional “villain,” but BWP absolutely KILLED the blue side of New York when he was with the Red Bulls. Nobody else comes close to having the impact he did in making the early days so one-sided. Dax McCarty deserves a shout and so does David Villa, but I have to go with the man who clearly relished scoring against NYCFC.
Current villain: Anton Tinnerholm
Potential villain: TBD
I don’t see an obvious candidate. Maybe I’m missing something. This one feels driven by the collective rather than the individual.
All-time villain: History
I’m cheating, and I know it. It could be Dwayne De Rosario (more Toronto vs. Montreal than Toronto FC vs. Impact), Michael Bradley (Reds captain and referee whisperer), or Felipe from the early meetings. The real MVP here is the fraught Canadian history between Toronto and Montreal, and each city’s English-speaking and Francophone cultures.
Current villain: Jozy Altidore
He just kills the Impact: 11 goals and five assists for Toronto FC against their biggest rival. Even worse for Montreal supporters, he likes to rub it in. Whether he’s taking shots during the Reds’ MLS Cup parade or elsewhere, Altidore doesn’t waste an opportunity to troll his club’s rivals up north. This quote, during his MLS Cup parade speech, is just perfect.
"Before we go guys, let's spare a moment for our rivals," Altidore said. "They're second best again. And we have the treble. 401 Derby champs. Toronto FC, baby.”
Potential villain: Laurent Ciman
Altidore’s still in possession of the title, but Ciman wasn’t happy about how he left Montreal and he’s always down to speak his mind (or throw in a semi-wild tackle). Plus, he can #$%@ talk in French.
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
All-time villain: Ozzie Alonso
Caleb Porter and Will Johnson both had a credible shout here, but they couldn’t match the Honey Badger’s decade of enthusiastically and unrepentantly kicking the crap out of Timbers’ marquee players. Show a Portland supporter a picture of Ozzie, and I bet they have an instant reaction. It doesn’t matter that he’s now with Minnesota United.
Current villain: Sebastian Blanco
This one is iffy. I don’t fully count Blanco, but the Argentine’s name came up a couple times in conversations with Seattle folks. Chucky mask. Big playoff goals in 2018. In a nutshell, “He flops, dives and complains. He's good, which makes it annoying.” Fortunately, the Portland-Seattle rivalry is so ingrained that it doesn’t need a villain to pop off.
Potential villain: Cristian Roldan
I enjoy the hell out of Roldan’s feistiness. He doesn’t back down from anyone, and he’s become more outspoken publicly every single year. I bet Timbers supporters don’t share my admiration, and they’re going to have to deal with Roldan, like Alonso before him, for what feels like forever.
All-time villain: Zlatan
His place in El Trafico lore is so infamous that I don’t need to walk you through two years of viral moments, put-it-on-repeat goals, never-ending shenanigans (just ask Latif Blessing) and public banter. Google “Zlatan, El Trafico.” It’ll be better that way.
Current villain: NA
Zlatan is gone. The position is wide open.
Potential villain: Mark-Anthony Kaye
Nobody is going to be Zlatan. It’s just not possible, but Kaye is the best prospect I see. He has a knack for getting into little clashes, the sort that can blow up and give a rivalry a marquee moment. He doesn’t back down from a fight, and it seems as though LAFC are poised to grab the momentum after the Galaxy owned them before last year’s playoff series. The friction is already there, it’s just going to take a spark.