NEW YORK, June 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Whether it's London, Rome or Buenos Aires, soccer rivalries throughout the world are driven by a fervent fan culture steeped in decades of tradition. Now in its 20th season, Major League Soccer's intense rivalries are quickly changing the landscape of soccer in the United States and Canada.
As MLS has expanded to become a 20-team league, rivalries have naturally developed, mostly due to geography. Beginning tonight, "MLS Heineken Rivalry Week" will celebrate the league's best matchups as clubs and their fans battle for bragging rights.
"Any real rivalry starts with the fans," says Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, who has also experienced the games known as "derbies" around the world while playing in Holland, Germany and Italy. "Their passion, their emotion, their feelings toward the game and the other team make rivalry games special."
From tonight, June 24, through Sunday, June 28, fans will get a look at some of the league's most intense matches.
It all begins June 24 with a Canadian battle between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, known as 401 Derby, so named after the stretch of highway that separates two of Canada's most prominent cities. Toronto has marquee names in Bradley, fellow U.S. national team player Jozy Altidore and Italian star Sebastian Giovinco, but Montreal is right on Toronto's heels in the Eastern Conference.
Bradley, in his second year with Toronto, says the fans told him immediately that beating Montreal was something that should matter. "In a lot of cases it's the first game that you hear fans talk about when you come to a new club," Bradley says. "That was certainly the case for me when I got to Toronto. Playoffs of course were the big goal, but Montreal was the game that was different than all the rest."
On Friday, the Texas Derby matches FC Dallas against the Houston Dynamo, and the winner of the season-long series takes home El Capitan, a replica 18th-century mountain howitzer cannon. More than 50,000 fans are expected Saturday evening when the San Jose Earthquakes host the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 71st meeting of the California Clasico.
When it comes to close proximity, territory and pride, it would be hard to beat the league's newest rivalry, which takes place in the USA's largest city. While the matchup between New York's two MLS teams -- the Red Bulls and the New York City Football Club -- is only one game old, there is no doubt that the match means a lot more than just three points in the standings to the fans.
"I would say the energy in the stadium for the first match was bigger than anything I've seen in MLS," says Red Bulls first-year coach Jesse Marsch, who played 14 years for three different MLS clubs. The Red Bulls won the first game, 2-1, at a sold-out Red Bull Arena on May 10. On Sunday, June 28, thousands of Red Bulls fans are expected to make the trip to the House that Ruth Built, hoping to make an impression in front of a packed house of NYCFC supporters at Yankee Stadium.
"The combination of the fans' passion along with the ambition of the two clubs, that's what will make this an in intense rivalry for years to come," says Marsch.
While the Red Bulls-NYCFC rivalry has the potential to become something spectacular, the bar has been set very high by the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC, whose rivalry dates back to 1975 when the two clubs competed in the old North American Soccer League. Since then, there have 90 meetings in official competitions between Seattle and Portland soccer teams. They meet again on Sunday in Portland, renewing what many sports fans call one of the most intense rivalries in North American sports.
"It's just massive when we play each other," says Seattle defender Brad Evans. "I think it's the rivalry that defines MLS rivalries at this point."
SOURCE Major League Soccer