MLS 101: Rivalries

Cascadia Cup one of many MLS derbies

Nizar Khalfan Roger Levesque

Photo Credit: 
Scott P. Price / Grande Sports World

This coming weekend, our Vancouver Whitecaps FC will participate in the Cascadia Summit with arch-rivals Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC.

From this Friday to Sunday, the 'Caps will face their Pacific Northwest rivals in the three-day event at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington. The Cascadia Summit will also feature forums involving the coaches and supporters groups from each club.

Major League Soccer has already indicated how important this 'Cascadia Cup' rivalry will be to the league, so let’s take a look at some history behind it, as well as other rivalries in MLS.

When I joined Whitecaps FC in 1979, I became aware of the heated rivalry between Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle. I remember the old North American Soccer League (NASL) scheduling a lot of these derby games on a long weekend, so rival fans could travel (…and there were many…) and support their teams.

As a player, there was always a bit more atmosphere in these derby games, and they meant that much more than any other league match. Rivalries can be become so intense that words like 'hate' or 'hated' have been used to describe some of these Cascadia derby contests.

Players can also have long memories. My old teammate Bobby Lenarduzzi remembers 1978 when Whitecaps FC were coming off a record of 24 wins and six defeats, and were unbeaten in 13 games. Yet, Vancouver were undone by Clyde Best and the Timbers in the playoffs, which certainly took the rivalry with Portland to another level. And who can forget Whitecaps FC's Willie Johnston mooning Seattle's Bruce Ricoh after Johnston scored a shootout goal. We certainly knew how much it meant to our fans to get the yearly bragging rights over the Timbers and Sounders. Imagine how good is it going to feel beating our Canadian rivals Toronto FC in our first MLS game at Empire Field on March 19…

In MLS, several clubs have been competing for trophies involving two rivalry teams. These cups are awarded to the side with the better regular season record versus their rival in a particular season.

Most cups are deliberately conceived as local derbies between a team and their nearest geographical opponent. The exception is the Brimstone Cup. When it came into being, the two teams involved were Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) and Chicago Fire. They had similar names (Fire and Burn) and were both in the old MLS Central Division in 2001 - the year the cup started. FC Dallas have won the cup seven times, while the Fire have only won the cup on one occasion. The teams have also tied for the cup, with the winner from the previous season keeping the trophy for another year.

The California Clasico is one of the oldest rivalries in MLS. It involves Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. It was in existence between 1996 and 2005 before resuming in 2008 following the re-birth of the Earthquakes. This rivalry originated from the historical Northern California versus Southern California sporting and cultural rivalry, as well as from the relative proximity of the cities (about 360 miles apart), which allows rival fans to attend each other’s games. The Galaxy have won it nine times, while the Earthquakes have claimed four California Clasico titles.

In the MLS Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Cup was created in 2002 by fan groups of New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) and D.C. United. United have won the cup seven times, while the Red Bulls have won the cup twice (including once as the MetroStars).

The Rocky Mountain Cup was created the year Real Salt Lake joined MLS in 2005, to give the Utah-based outfit extra excitement for their inaugural season. The cup is contested between Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids. The Rapids won the cup in 2005 and 2006, while RSL have won it four straight times - 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

A preseason derby, the Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup was created in 2007 in honour of former MLS club owner Lamar Hunt. It is contested between FC Dallas and Columbus Crew - two teams which Hunt owned up until his death in 2006. The inaugural match was played March 11, 2007, at Pizza Hut Park. Columbus won the 2007 match, and after a two-year hiatus, FC Dallas won the cup in 2010.

2008 witnessed the birth of a brand new derby between two MLS Eastern Conference clubs, with the Trillium Cup forming between Toronto FC and Columbus Crew. The Crew have won the cup during the first three years it has been contested. The cup is named after the official provincial and state flower of both Ontario and Ohio.

The Texas Derby is a soccer rivalry between the state's two MLS teams - Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas. The series winner takes home a replica 18th century mountain howitzer cannon named 'El Capitan'. Houston have won the cup three times, while FC Dallas have claimed the title on two occasions. FC Dallas have actually been able to fire 'El Capitan' after wins at their Pizza Hut Park home.

The Honda SuperClasico - also known as 'El Clasico Angelino' or 'LA Derby' is a rivalry between MLS clubs Chivas USA and Los Angeles Galaxy. The rivalry is considered as the only "true" local derby in the league, as both teams are based at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The Galaxy have dominated the rivalry, winning five times, while The Goats have only won the SuperClasico once since it began in 2005.

The Heritage Cup is an annual cup rivalry that began during the 2009 MLS season between San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC. As the only two MLS clubs to have carried forward their old NASL team names that season, both sides have split the cup during the first two years. San Jose won it in 2009, while Seattle claimed the cup in 2010. All future MLS teams that carry the names of their markets' NASL predecessors will be eligible to play for the Heritage Cup, with Whitecaps FC and Portland being eligible in 2011.

As you can see, the MLS is not short on rivalries. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that the Cascadia Cup is going to become one of the fiercest derbies in all of Major League Soccer. Let the derby games begin!