We are in the midst of “MLS Rivalry Week” so what better time to rank the best rivalries in the league? What makes a rivalry anyway? Is it the proximity? Could it be the fan bases? How about circumstances? Perhaps it is a bit of all of the above? Let's see, shall we?
Though, before we dive into the best rivalries of Major League Soccer, let’s take a peek at a few “rivalries” that haven’t quite blossomed like many fans and MLS executives would like…
New York Red Bulls vs New York City FC – Hudson River Derby
In only its second season, the battle of New York is slowly starting to show itself as one of the league's premier match-ups. This weekend’s match will air on Fox and is expected to see a raucous and near-capacity crowd at the new Yankee Stadium. I think it is safe to say that in coming seasons we will see this bloom into a truly riveting rivalry.
Toronto FC vs Montreal Impact – 401 Derby
Toronto FC was Major League Soccer’s first dip into Canada and while the on-field performance has been lackluster, the fandom has been a success. The city of Montreal came to the MLS party a few years later, thus the 401 Derby was born. The 401 Derby gets its name from the highway that connects the two cities. Toronto and Montreal have had heat prior to either of these two teams entering MLS. The Maple Leafs and Canadians of the NHL have deep seeded hatred going back decades. One of these days the Impact and TFC will have a similar rivalry but it isn’t there yet.
New York vs Los Angeles
Like the rap game of the 90’s, the east coast versus west coast gimmick always brings spice to whatever realm or industry is in play. During the years of Beckham and Donovan in LA and Juan Pablo Angel and Rafa Marquez in New York (New Jersey) I had hoped the two MLS powers would have battled in an MLS Cup but no such luck. Now with both markets having two franchises (and a lot of money to spend) maybe one of these days the league executives and broadcast partners will see the Cup Final they have dreamed of.
Rest in Peace
Chivas USA vs LA Galaxy – Super Clasico
The Super Clasico is no more. It went down with the ship when Chivas USA closed up shop. During its run it did have a slew of memorable battles. Who could forget the Jesse Marsch karate kick on David Beckham? The series was a one-sided affair though; when the Super Clasico was laid to rest, the Galaxy accumulated 22 wins against a mere 4 losses with 8 draws versus Chivas. In the mid to late 2000’s it was the best rivalry in the western conference.
And the Winner is…
Enough hullabaloo with these coulda beens and shoulda beens, let’s get to the biggest and baddest rivalries in Major League Soccer…
6.) LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders
This isn’t your typical MLS rivalry matchup predicated on proximity. No, this is more of an organic (and likely short lived) heated rivalry thanks to these two franchises battling in the playoffs over consecutive seasons. The Sounders even knocked LA Galaxy off the Supporters Shield mountain top in 2014. Both teams have big time star players and very passionate fan bases. I hope this feud continues for several more seasons.
5.) FC Dallas vs Houston Dynamo – Texas Derby
The Winner of the “Texas Derby” takes home “El Capitán”, a replica mountain howitzer cannon. You can’t get much cooler than that! While Houston claimed 5 of the first 7 season series, FC Dallas has captured the last 3. The Texas Derby has even found itself during US Open Cup play.
Fun Trivia: Houston Dynamo or FC Dallas was an MLS Cup Final participant in 5 of the 7 finals from 2006 to 2012.
4.) Colorado Rapids vs Real Salt Lake – Rocky Mountain Cup
The Rocky Mountain Cup is the epitome of grassroots soccer. The series and trophy were conjured up by fans from both clubs before RSL even stepped onto the field for the first time. During RSL’s Jason Kreis heyday, Salt Lake won the Rocky Mountain Cup every year from 2007 to 2012. Colorado has turned the tables in recent years however. The two have yet to meet in a playoff series but their regular season matchups have historically been fantastic. The most infamous moment occurred in 2006, when current head coach, Pablo Mastroeni removed his shirt, stuffed it down his pants and gestured towards the RSL fans. How can you not love that?
3.) LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes – California Clasico
The California Clasico has produced some of the most memorable MLS battles in both the regular season and playoffs. It doesn’t hurt that both have collected quite a bit of hardware along the way too. LA Galaxy actually played the Earthquakes in the MLS Cup in 2001. Who else remembers the PK shootout for the US Open Cup way back in 2001? The two were even combatants during the 2012 playoffs.
Side note: One of the greatest free kicks in MLS history came from Dwayne DeRosario while playing for the Quakes against the Galaxy (Google it).
2.) New York Red Bulls vs DC United – Atlantic Cup
The Red Bulls and DC United battle for the “Atlantic Cup” in what has transpired into one of the most heated rivalries in the league. The origin of this rivalry tends to stem from the cities proximity to one another and the frequency in which the two clubs have played versus each other in playoff series and even US Open Cup matches. The Alecko Eskandarian drink and spit of a can of Red Bull in 2008 only added fuel to the fire to what was already a heck of rivalry. While historically, DC United has the upper hand in the rivalry with a 41-24-10 record, the heavy tilt hasn’t cooled down the hostility over the years. DCU was the league’s original golden child. The Red Bull / Metrostars have had many of the leagues brightest stars and recently won some hardware, this is a story with many heated chapters left to write.
1.) Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders – Cascadia Cup
Having previously lived in Portland and travelled numerous times to Seattle, I can assure you that this rivalry was born from the two cities truly not liking one another. Portland has a “little brother” complex compared to Seattle, while the Emerald City isn’t pleased about coming up short in its quest to win an MLS Cup. While this rivalry hasn’t been around in MLS as long as many of the others mentioned, it has to be considered the most ardent in the league. I know that many fans of the longstanding rivalry matchups listed above will poo-poo this ranking but the proof is in the pudding. The massive travelling supporters groups make attending one of these duels a must for any MLS fan.
What are your thoughts? How would you rank the various MLS rivalries? Let me know in the comments below.