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MLS ‘rivalries:’ Real acrimony, or just ginned-up sales jobs?

May 23, 2012, 4:05 PM EDT

Newspaper reporter

I’ve watched the game grow steadily for 20 years. We’ve passed the mile markers steadily.

Sometimes we hit sticking points, plateaus on player development, marketing strategies or referees, etc. We’ll eventually move off  them, but sometimes need a nudge to regain lost momentum.

So, allow me to nudge a nook that I know well: soccer in the media.

Fellow writers, anchors, analysts, bloggers, poison pensmen and general members of the chattering class, I beseech thee: stop writing and talking about MLS “rivalries” that do not exist.

Just because someone screams “Rivalry!” that doesn’t make it so. History makes rivalries, and nothing else.

If the marketing mavens and ticket salesman want to fly the flag of acrimonious strife, that’s their business. They are selling a product. I get it.

But I will not write about the heat factor in drummed-up, tricked-up alleged rivalries that, in the end, are indistinguishable from pretty much any mid-week MLS meeting.

Bruce Arena, a man of candor, addressed this recently, when he chided reporters for asking questions about fakey “rivalries” that existed only in their notepads.

“I think every game we play in the league is a rivalry game …,” Arena said. “What are you going to ask me Thursday: ‘Is [the next opponent] a rival?’ ”

“I don’t buy into any of it,” he said, allowing that Chivas USA is an actual rival. “All the others? They’re all to different degrees rivalries. I think every club in the league, it’s a rival.”


Not to pick on any team or match or media brother, but today I read about Columbus and Seattle and the indignation and irritation factor attached to tonight’s meeting.

“Rivalry,” huh? I say, not so much.

Yes, Sounders manager Sigi Schmid once left Columbus in a huff. So he may gain some extra Sigi smidge of satisfaction by sticking it to his former bosses. But Schmid’s move to Seattle has worked out beautifully, and he knows so. I doubt he spends much time gritting his teeth over the whole thing. And Seattle’s players? C’mon. They want the points. They want to protect CenturyLink Field. They want to win for themselves and for the supporters. And that’s about it.

A few rivalries may carry some extra portions of umbrage. New York and D.C. United, a series with actual history (as opposed to drummed-up history)? Yeah, there’s something there. Portland-Seattle-Vancouver? Yeah, of course.

Los Angeles and Chivas USA? Yes, but even that one is on a serious fade. The Galaxy has dominated, and thousands of empty seats at last week’s latest meeting hardly said “Clasico.”

I might even allow the “rivalry” stamp on a couple of others, but that’s about it.

So, let’s allow these things to develop on their own, which they will.

The salesmen and marketeers can do as they please. But let’s not all naively buy into it, eh?

  1. dfstell - May 23, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Sing it! It just looks so fake trying to create something that doesn’t really exist. We all “get it” – professional soccer is young in this country. And that’s fine. We wish we’d had a league going back 100 years, but we don’t….so we don’t get to have that history until we make it ourselves. That’s not bad….it’s just how it is.

    A related thing that bugs me are when teams try to invent things for the fans to do in the stands. I’m not aware of any MLS examples, but you occasionally see college american football team do something like jingling car keys during the kickoff or some other tacky and made-up thing….. Ugh….spare me.

    Just let things happen organically.

    • Steve Davis - May 23, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      You preach it, too, man! You get it.

  2. ndnut - May 23, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    Cascadia Cup. Nuff said.

  3. firewolf777 - May 23, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Union and redbulls just despise each other and every game is a good one.

    • meeremia - May 23, 2012 at 6:42 PM

      I think Philadelphia-New York is the sort of manufactured rivalry Steve is talking about. These two organizations have never significantly hurt each other in the regular season — much less the playoffs, which is what really matters — which is why there’s a dichotomy in how the media perceives the relationship and how fans do. I’m sure most New York fans would get taken out to the woodshed every time they face Philadelphia this season if they get to humiliate DC as a reward.

  4. bobinkc - May 23, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    It’s the same kind of garbage they write about pro football and pro basketball teams, manufactured out of whole cloth. Why would you get all worked up about Team X when you could be playing for Team X in a few weeks?

    Steve, don’t perpetuate this junk into futball, please!

  5. larryharry59 - May 23, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    Portland and Seattle. Chivas is a bastard child of the MLS. The only people who are actually fans of them are Mexican Americans who are fans of big Chivas Guadalajuara, and thats a stretch even then. Move them to San Diego or Phoenix AND change the name of the team.

  6. tylerbetts - May 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    I agree with 90% of what’s written here. It’s true, there are few legitimate rivalries in MLS at the moment.

    However, to say that History is the ONLY thing that makes true rivalries is simply not true. Never underestimate the value of hatred. Hatred between fan bases makes a rivalry, even moreso than history.

    That’s why it’s easy to argue Sounders-Crew as a rivalry, and why it’s easy not to. Many, many Crew fans hate hate hate SSFC. So, in their eyes, it’s close to a rivalry game. However, I doubt many (if any) SSFC fans hate the Crew. Thus, hard to actually call it a rivalry.

    But Portland-Vancouver-Seattle? History and Hatred cement it as a rival. Salt Lake-Colorado? Hatred cements it as a rival (as does SLC’s inferiority “I wish we were Denver” complex, but that’s for another place).

    Of course … what do these have? The fact they were allowed to grow organically. As the first commenter said. The real way these will grow is with organic rivalries spawning. But, it’s not going to be history driving them. It’s going to be hatred. Between cities. Between clubs. Between players. Between supporters. Moments that captivate one group and heartbreak the other.

  7. berlintexas - May 25, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Two things can make a rivalry: history and proximity. I agree with the fact that MLS tries too hard to make rivalries but also doesn’t seem to really “get it.” For example, Houston and Dallas are instate rivals in everything except sports. Why? In almost every league the two cities are in different conferences (NBA being the notable exception and the popularity and success of the teams shows the result). Moving Houston to the east pretty much eliminated any rivalry we had with Dallas. Terrible.

  8. orangebaseball - Jun 18, 2012 at 12:11 AM

    MLS is a young league. You can’t have rivalries that have a lot of history and meaning. However, it is best to manufacture rivalries based on locations.

    New England Revolution vs Montreal Impact. This follows the NHL, hockey rivalry.
    NYRB vs PHI. Typical NYC vs PHI rivalry in any sport
    + DCU Geographic Rival that could work. Pittsburgh, Baltimore, NYC2 in the future?
    All Canadian teams= Rival
    Pacific Northwest = All historic Rivals
    SJE, LAG, CHV =Typical California Rivalry
    COL vs RSl = Mountain Rivalry + Phoenix in the future?
    FCD vs HOU =Texas Rivalry + San Antonio in the future?
    SKS vs CHI vs CLB = Midwest rivalry + St. Louis, Detroit, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indy, Nashville, etc in the future?
    etc, etc

    Just follow rivalries like in other sports and this league is fine.

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