Are you for real? MLS' rivalry week reimagined
It's “Rivalry Week” in Major League Soccer; except, it isn't.
The league's annual marketing blitz around league derbies -- some genuine, some as fake as the grass in Seattle -- is in full swing, with all kinds of things to warm one's corporate heart: mostly Twittersphere goings-on, some stuff with Periscope and the Heineken House in West Hollywood, where you can join Landon Donovan, apparently, to watch the California Clasico rather than, you know, actually going to the game.
Marketing nonsense is fine -- it serves a purpose, and nobody ought to begrudge MLS whatever funds it can accrue -- but if you're going to stage “Rivalry Week,” then why so few rivalry games?
MLS acknowledges it has only five “rivalry” matches among the nine scheduled games for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and at least three of those are the real thing. Another is a longstanding rivalry in name only, and the last is a could-be rivalry that's not really there yet.
There's another of these weekends slated for the end of August, and it's not particularly full, either. Four, maybe five battles that could be considered rivalries.
Maybe there are issues elsewhere in the schedule or stadium availability situations -- although most MLS teams control their own facility these days -- but wouldn't it make sense to play as many matches that fit the moniker as you can?
Ultimately, not really. Because none of this matters. It's just marketing.
With that in mind, let's look at this weekend's “Rivalry Week” slate, and discern the real derbies from the ersatz.
San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy (StubHub Center, Sunday, 7 p.m. ET): The NorCal-SoCal rivalry extends beyond sports and into culture. The Bay Area thinks L.A. is a monstrous pile of asphalt and concrete. And L.A. thinks the Bay Area is a wonderful place to spend the weekend, just a 45-minute flight away. The California Clasico has a rich history -- no other MLS rivalry has been an MLS Cup showdown -- and it's been a lot hotter since a hundred or so LA fans were booted from Buck Shaw four years ago after a smoke bomb was ignited in their section following a fight.
Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers (Providence Park, Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET): The Cascadia Cup is the best thing MLS has going in this realm, and Portland's fans might be the most passionate in the league. (Cue the Sounders fans' protests in three, two ...) That makes this maybe the most interesting of these games, since the Whitecaps are suddenly hot (three straight wins) and the Timbers have gone stone cold (three successive 2-1 losses, the first against the Whitecaps).
New York Red Bulls at New York City FC (Yankee Stadium, Saturday, 3 p.m. PT): This has the makings of a tremendous derby, but the eggs must be cracked and the stove lit before it comes together. Maybe we'll see that this time: NYC, in its second year, has looked pretty decent the last few weeks, and if David Villa isn't the best pure striker in MLS, then he's on a very short list. The Red Bulls won all three meetings last year, and until the newcomers can beat the nasties from across the Hudson River, does this really count as a rivalry?
Makes sense, but...
D.C. United at Philadelphia Union (Talen Energy Stadium, Friday, 7 p.m. ET): This I-95 duel could develop into something real -- they're just 140 miles apart -- but it is not there yet. They've played some close games and have met four of the last five years in the U.S. Open Cup, which might stand for something if the fans really, really cared about the Open Cup. D.C.'s longest-serving rival is farther up the road, but NYCFC is horning in on that one.
In name only
Columbus Crew at Toronto FC (BMO Stadium, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET): The Trillium Cup has never seemed to make much sense, even among the clubs' followers. It's a manufactured derby, designed to, well, create rivals for clubs that don't really have one -- except TFC now does, with both of its fellow Canadian outfits. The Crew and Reds are linked, it seems, by an official state/province flower (the trillium, naturally) and both cities being on the Great Lakes, except when you look at a map of Ohio, you find Columbus squarely in the middle. Cleveland is on Lake Erie, and Cleveland and Columbus are nothing alike.
Maybe one day
Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City (Children's Mercy Park, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET): RSL has a rival, but these sides have met in a tightly contested MLS Cup title game -- Sporting pulled out the 2013 title on PKs -- and continue to field strong sides annually. There are probably some huge games in their future, and huge games are the materiel of such arrangements.
Sorry, not sorry
Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders (CenturyLink Field, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET): As tight and talented as is the Western Conference, every game could be a rivalry of some sort. Good teams will miss the playoffs. The Rapids' resurgence makes them fodder for everybody.
Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire (Toyota Park, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET): If New York and L.A., America's two largest cities, have a genuine rivalry, why can't Nos. 3 and 4? L.A. and New York are very dissimilar, too ... but there's more afoot there (media, show business, the Dodgers' move, etc.). Houston and Chicago? Well, they're kind of, almost, on a north-south line. Kind of.
FC Dallas at New England Revolution (Gillette Stadium, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET): Um ... no.
Montreal Impact at Orlando City SC (Camping World Stadium, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET): The two new kids! That's all we've got.