Philly Sports Live

From the PSL Soccer Desk: Rivalry Weak

Question: What do sets of supporters, fixed to play each other during a contrived “rivalry week”, do when there’s not much of a rivalry to begin with? Simple.  We make the most of it.

Here was MLS Rivalry Weak (sic) in a nutshell:

Seattle ripped into Portland supporters, reminding them that they invented everything that is great about soccer, including, but not limited to winning, artificial turf, crappy weather, and Kasey Keller’s kneecaps.

DC fans constantly reminded Red Bull supporters that the MLS Cup has spent as many winters in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho as it has Harrison New Jersey.

And Union fans reminded Revs fans that even though Ben Franklin was born in Boston, he had his best years in Philly.  Also, their city hall looks like a drunk pyramid.

I will say, though, that talking to Revs supporters about this game on Twitter in a kind of, “Well, I guess we hate you then,” sort of way, reminded me how much I love the game and the people around it.  It’s the sort of humor that will get you through a terrible game.  And this was a terrible, terrible game.

But amidst all of that, we began talking about the other actual rivalries that were going on this weekend, and how they were mostly forged by regional hatred and past soccer/sports history.  And we decided, collectively that we weren’t going to let everyone else have all the fun.

So we started talking about the I-95 Cup.

The brainchild of Sons of Ben member and uber soccer nerd Rich Ransom, the I-95 Cup has been his unofficial way of declaring a regional champion since 2011, awarded to the winner of matches between MLS’s four outposts on the Eastern Corridor.   DC won it last season, and the Union managed to finish third, a small made up moral victory in an otherwise crap season.

Not satisfied with keeping this concept within the confines of his sordid mind (because anyone who is a Man U fan can’t be all right in the head), Ransom has been actively campaigning amongst the fans of the other three clubs to get the ball rolling and make this a reality.  The response has been mixed.  New England supporters, excited that someone is actually paying attention to them, have been really receptive.  Some Red Bull supporters have been equally as keen, though a number of them have brushed it off as not being ‘organic’ and does not involve real rivalries.  Ransom has not heard from DC fans, most likely because most of them are wandering around the bowels of RFK, looking for its one (AND ONLY ONE) exit out.

But let’s think about this.  As much history as there is in Cascadia, you would think that a region that has three original MLS clubs and a young club that hates at least two of them with the passion of a thousand Danny Califf elbows, would generate as much hype as the competition out West.  And certainly the fans, the one who drive these competitions, support them both at home and on the road (excepting the Revs, at least for now).  A four-team cup / goblet / plate / gift card competition has the capability to capture the imagination of Eastern based soccer fans, and could grow into a regional tradition that could stand up to any other in world football.

It could.  Eventually, but not now.

For as much as I would love to see Ransom’s concept become a reality, the Red Bull fans who objected to this were ri… they were ri… sorry, I can’t say it.  I just can’t admit they are correct about anything.  But they do have a point.  Rivalries are mutual.

Zolo nation may hate everything about Red Bull – the team, their fans, the sugar water the team is named after – but they see us as a cute nuisance, a spritely little club that exists halfway between them and DC United.  I compare Union/Red Bull to Eagles/Cowboys.  We hate Dallas, we wear our shirts with Calvin peeing on the Cowboys logo with pride, but Cowboys/Redskins trumps all.

On the other side of the coin, you have Union/Revs.  I don’t recall seeing a single Revolution fan at PPL this past weekend, and it’s very possible that those who were going to come didn’t because of the weather.  Sure, there are some that are still mad at the Sons of Ben for heckling them at RFK in 2007 as they went down to defeat in the MLS Cup for the fourth time when we didn’t even have a team.  But that was so long ago.  Now, we’re just two mediocre teams who happen to play six hours apart from each other.

Rivalries are bred by results.  The Union need to play better, to go to RFK and Red Bull Arena and make their presence known.  New England needs to play well enough to get its fans to trek down to PPL and DC in numbers.   Results like that garner attention.  Attention garners electricity.  And from that electricity, sparks and anticipation form, and then you have a true rivalry.  And only then will everyone be on board.

One day.

But it’s still nice to dream.  To dream and to hope for a time when games against DC and Red Bull are circled on the calendars of La Barra Brava and the Empire Supporters Club as rivalry matches Zac MacMath lifts the I-95 Cup™ / Goblet™ / Plate™ / Gift Card™ in front of the faithful at PPL and the hordes of traveling fans from New England, signifying regional superiority for yet another season.  For the league to hype it as much as they do in Cascadia, and for supporters like Rich Ransom and others from the Eastern clubs to revel in what they have created and nurtured.

And it’s stuff like that that you just can’t manufacture.