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Top 8 Fiercest Rivalries in Major League Soccer

| January 6, 2021 10:09 am PDT
Biggest Rivalries in Major League Soccer

The MLS is by no means the oldest soccer league in the world. But when it comes to fierce rivalries, America’s top division is right up there with the very best on the planet.

With a host of ot

With a host of notable derbies and regional cups taking place every year, Major League Soccer has gained a reputation for its local rivalries and interstate showdowns.

DC United and New York Red Bulls have battled for the Atlantic Cup for over two decades, while LA Galaxy and LAFC’s El Trafico derby only began in 2018.

But what are the biggest rivalries in Major League Soccer? Well, I share my top eight MLS rivalries below.

Cascadia Cup – Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

It could be argued that this is Major League Soccer’s biggest rivalry.

The two sides first met in the NASL all the way back in 1975, and since then, there has been a very public hatred between Seattle and Portland, both on and off the pitch.

This rivalry is made even more fierce by the fact that the clubs boast two of the best fanbases in MLS. Cascadia Cup matchday is always a vibrant spectacle, with both sets of supporters famous for their antagonistic tifos.

Between them, the Sounders and the Timbers have produced countless memorable moments over the years. Portland captain Will Johnson famously directed an explicit chant at Seattle following the Timbers’ 2015 MLS Cup triumph.

However, the very next season, the Sounders snatched the trophy, with Clint Dempsey aiming a foul-mouthed rant back in Portland’s direction.

In recent times, the Washington outfit has claimed the Pacific Northwest bragging rights over their Oregon neighbors.

El Trafico – LA Galaxy vs. LAFC

Yes, El Trafico is one of the youngest rivalries in MLS. But in terms of on-field entertainment, it’s difficult to think of a local derby that come close to LA Galaxy vs. LAFC.

The Los Angeles rivals have faced each other on ten occasions since the Black & Gold joined Major League Soccer in 2018, and ever since the Galaxy’s famous 4-3 win in their inaugural meeting, the two teams have dished up unrivalled drama.

Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s famed 40-yard screamer will probably always be remembered as THE standout El Trafico moment. But let’s not forget about Carlos Vela’s double in LAFC’s 5-3 victory, or Diego Rossi’s hat-trick in last year’s 6-2 thrashing for the Bob Bradley’s side.

This derby may not have the same level of off-field passion as some of the more deep-rooted rivalries elsewhere in MLS. Still, every time the Los Angeles clubs clash, they seem to create special moments.

In just ten meetings, the two teams have managed to rack up a whopping 47 goals between them. That’s an average of 4.7 goals per game!

EL TRAFICO RECORD (2018-2020)
Team Wins Goals Scored
LA Galaxy 4 23
LAFC 3 24

Hudson River Derby – New York City vs. New York Red Bulls

Is New York City red or blue?

Well, the Reds Bulls certainly owned the Big Apple bragging rights for a long time. But in 2015, the Boys in Blue burst onto the MLS scene and have since made their mark on the city.

Just like El Trafico, the Hudson River Derby doesn’t have the history of Major League Soccer’s oldest rivalries. However, there is no denying that this matchup is now one of the standout fixtures on the MLS calendar.

The Red Bulls completely dominated their rivals in the early years, securing four straight victories over the newcomers. In 2016, NYCFC suffered a humiliating 7-0 thrashing at Yankee Stadium, despite boasting stars like Andrea Pirlo and David Villa.

But lately, the Boys in Blue have turned things around. New York City has lost just four of the previous 11 Hudson River Derbies, with a 5-2 victory coming towards the end of last season.

Canadian Classique – Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC

It is no secret that all of the Candian teams hate each other. But given that Montreal and Toronto compete in the same conference, the Canadian Classique is definitely the biggest match north of the border.

This game is often referred to as the 401 Derby, with the Ontario Highway 401 connecting the two cities. Yet supporters of both teams will tell you that there is very little else joining the cities, other than their mutual hatred.

Whether it’s soccer or hockey, Montreal and Toronto have never seen eye to eye. In fact, this rivalry has been brewing for centuries, with cultural and political difference often spilling over onto the pitch.

The two rivals have produced multiple unforgettable games over the years, although it’s difficult to imagine anything ever coming close to the drama of the 2016 Eastern Conference final.

In the first leg, the Impact claimed a 3-2 victory in front of 61,000 rowdy spectators at Olympic Stadium. A week later, Toronto crushed Montreal 5-2 in the second leg, leaving their bitter rivals red-faced.

Thankfully, the Canadian Championship ensures that these two sides face off in a high-profile game on an almost yearly basis. The teams have played each other in the final four times, with Montreal triumphing on three occasions.

Atlantic Cup – DC United vs. New York Red Bulls

Before New York City arrived in MLS back in 2015, DC United was the Red Bulls’ main rivals.

With the Black & Red declining lately and the Red Bulls turning their attention to the Boys in Blues, this derby has taken a backseat in recent times. But when it comes to original Major League Soccer rivalries, this is undoubtedly the oldest.

Overall, there have been 97 meetings between these two teams, with 13 MLS Cup playoff matches along the way. DC has the edge over the Red Bulls for now, although that could change in the coming seasons.

This fixture has produced plenty of special goals, yet the most historic Atlantic Cup moment arguably came after a goal was scored. I mean, who could forget Alecko Eskandarian’s infamous celebration?

After scoring in a 2006 showdown, the DC man cracked open a can of Red Bull, took a sip, and spat it back out in disgust. Needless to say, his actions didn’t go down well with rival supporters.

Sure, this derby has cooled off recently. But you can’t talk about the greatest rivalries in MLS history without mentioning the Atlantic Cup.

ALL-TIME ATLANTIC CUP RECORD
Team Wins Goals Scored
DC United 44 154
New York Red Bulls 36 121

Texas Derby – FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo

The imminent arrival of Austin FC will take the total number of Texas teams in MLS to three. However, the newcomers have a long way to go before they can challenge the rivalry between two of the league’s oldest foes – FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo.

The first edition of the Texas Derby took place in 2006, with Houston winning 4-3 on that occasion. But over the past few years, the Lone Star State has been dominated by Dallas.

The Dynamo has only managed to win two of the last 15 matches in this fixture, while the Toros have secured the Supporters’ Shield and the Open Cup in that time, heaping more misery on their rivals.

Most derby games see the winner take home a trophy. But in Texas, it’s safe to say that they do things a little differently.

Believe it or not, the winner of the Texas Derby gains control of a cannon! That’s right, a real-life, working cannon called El Capitan – a replica 18th century mountain howitzer.

California Clásico – LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes

El Trafico may have stolen to the spotlight in California, with LAFC now a genuine force in Major League Soccer. But the 20-year hatred between the Galaxy and the Quakes is still very real to this day.

The maiden MLS meeting between the teams came all the way back in 1996. San Jose won the first-ever Cali Clásico, and the teams have now faced each other a total of 90 times in all competitions.

The majority of MLS derbies rarely make it past the regular season. However, in 2001, the Quakes secured a famous extra-time victory over the Galaxy in the MLS Cup final. That result only fueled the fire for subsequent encounters.

A few years down the line, David Beckham etched his name into Cali Clásico folklore by smashing the ball at Sam Cronin, who was down injured at the time. Strangely, San Jose’s mascot found himself in the middle of a brawl between the two sides.

More recently, the Quakes capped off 2020 with a thumping 4-0 over the Galaxy. San Jose finished eight points ahead of the LA outfit to clinch an unlikely playoff spot last season, gaining the upper hand over their old foes once again.

Rocky Mountain Cup – Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake

This is by no means the most high-profile rivalry in Major League Soccer. But in terms of proximity, there are few clubs as close as Colorado and RSL.

The Rocky Mountain neighbors may only have two MLS Cup triumphs between them (RSL in 2009 and Colorado in 2010). But whenever the two rivals meet, there are always fireworks.

From Pablo Mastroeni’s notorious confrontation with then-Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts in 2006 to Kyle Beckerman’s controversial switch from the Rapids to the Claret & Cobalt in 2007, there has been no love lost between these two sides over the years.

It’s fair to say that RSL has enjoyed playing against Colorado of late. Indeed, the Rapids have only won two of the previous 12 Rocky Mountain Cup clashes, with a 6-0 thrashing coming at DSG Park back in 2018.

Still, the Rapids stemmed the tide with a 5-0 victory over RSL in their most recent encounter. Let’s hope that 2021 sees the two rivals create more high-scoring thrillers.

Wrap-Up

Let’s not forget that there are plenty of other MLS rivalries. The Hell is Real Derby is a relatively new rivalry between Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati, while Orlando City and Inter Miami recently started the Everglades Cup.

 Dallas and Chicago’s Brimstone Cup battles are also worth a mention, as well as Heritage Cup rivals Seattle and San Jose.

But in my opinion, the eight rivalries that I included in this post are definitely the biggest.

If rivalries are your thing, make sure you check out my take on the top 10 rivalries in world soccer.

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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