'No one hates us': Major League Soccer's loneliest teams during rivalry week
Rivalries. They’re one of Major League Soccer’s dearest concepts, the holy grail of the league’s marketing efforts, a “finish your beverage” signal in most any MLS-based drinking game.
The heightened passions of geographic proximity and/or historical and cultural links have long been key tools for MLS, where shallow roots, a long season and a forgiving postseason format have at times conspired to drain league games of significance and intensity.
Some of these matchups, like the Cascadia Cup clash between Seattle and Portland, the Golden State’s “California Clasico” and the fierce Toronto-Montreal divide that runs far deeper than soccer, or even sports, have been godsends. Others, less so. “Trillium Cup,” we’re looking in your direction, pal.
Despite the best efforts of MLS headquarters to conjure up one for everyone, a few teams live in a no-man’s-land with few or no natural rivals, or are separated from them by league affiliation or level, or simply don’t have their enmity reciprocated by the other guys.
Here, then, are our top five loneliest teams in MLS.
(Author’s note: We’ve elected to remove expansion newcomers Atlanta and Minnesota from consideration here, due to their recent arrival on the scene.)
5. Vancouver Whitecaps
Yes, the Vancouver Whitecaps are paid-in-full members of the Cascadia Cup and are even the trophy’s current holders, having won the intra-league series with Seattle and Portland three times in its MLS era, more than either of the other clubs.
But there’s a third-wheel phenomenon at work here. Whether it’s due to the international border that cuts Rain City off from the other two, or just the natural Seattle-Portland enmity that transcends pro soccer, Vancouver just doesn’t generate quite the same heat. The Caps are the working-class kids who just don’t get illuminati status no matter how good their grades are at Harvard.
But wait, you may say: The Whitecaps also have that cross-Canadian showdown going on with TFC and the Impact. Unfortunately, it’s much the same scenario as Cascadia: Those other two are never going to dislike you as much as they dislike each other. It’s not you, it’s them.
4. Orlando City SC
This might be a little harsh given that Orlando City is only in its third year of MLS membership, but the Lions just don’t have any rival prides to face off against in league play – and didn’t really in USL, either.
There’s been talk of a Southern rivalry with Atlanta, but it’s too soon to say. The two sides meet for the first time in back-to-back league games on July 21 and 29, then round out their season series on Sept. 16. Maybe by then they’ll have some bad blood simmering.
The startling growth of pro soccer in the Sunshine State offers some potential solutions, though. NASL sides Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC sit just up the road in either direction, while some of Orlando’s more forceful supporters have managed to spark actual brawls with their counterparts from the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies without even being in the same league. If any of them wind up in MLS, things could get spicy.