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Rivalry Week: Who took bragging rights in 2024?

May 19, 2024, by Charles Boehm | Courtesy of www.mlssoccer.com



The 2024 edition of Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire is done and dusted, after more than a dozen games across three matchdays served up smack, spite and drama in copious quantities. Here’s a quick whip-around on what it meant.


The Herdman effect is real for TFC


The most head-turning, one-sided scoreline of the week happened at BMO Field, where Toronto FC jumped all over CF Montréal right from the opening whistle en route to a 5-1 Canadian Classique thrashing.


Led by the imperious hat-trick hero Fede Bernardeschi, whose new blond cornrows left no doubt about the scale of his confidence at present, the Reds were up 3-0 before 20 minutes had passed, while CFM could barely muster the minimum. It left the impression that only one side had gotten the memo about how much this tale of two cities – an antagonism centuries in the making, one which transcends sports – really means.


TFC boss John Herdman again flexed his master motivator chops, asking the native sons on his roster to explain the history and emotions to their colleagues, and did it ever work. Last year’s Wooden Spoon winners are now a real threat.


“When we signed for this club, we took on the responsibility for days like this, and that we would do it for those six, seven lads in the room, we would do it for them today,” Herdman said afterwards. “That was the start and I let Jonathan [Osorio, Toronto’s homegrown captain] finish. He took the room himself and he said what needed to be said. He cares. He cares a lot.

“We asked them to just bring a lot of passion and to bring the discipline around the tactical identity. We knew we had a lot of quality on the pitch but you have to use it, and I thought they did that tonight on many occasions.”

 

Cascadia invented skin-tight margins


Live by the Nouhou, die by the Nouhou?


The Seattle Sounders’ longtime left back is one of the true characters of contemporary MLS, that rare sort of flamboyant defender who can add entertainment to even seemingly mundane tasks.


Every once in a while the Cameroonian flies too close to the sun, however. Like the unconventional flying block he tried to pull off as the Rave Green defended a 1-0 lead at home in the dying minutes of their Cascadia Cup duel with Vancouver. While many a Sounders fan was left fuming by the referees' decision not to award their side a penalty kick for a comparable play involving Javain Brown at the other end a few moments earlier, even Brian Schmetzer readily admitted it was a PK.


Thus, the Whitecaps smuggled a scarcely-deserved road point out of Lumen Field and kept themselves a nose ahead of Seattle in the race for Cascadia Cup honors. With five games to go, VWFC have seven points from three matches played, the Sounders are second with four from three and Portland are 0W-2L-0D, albeit with a game in hand.


Despite fumbling the bag there, Seattle can take solace in their 2-1 winover the Timbers last weekend, their first W in the Rose City in three years, delivered by a stunner of a lefty strike from Raúl Ruidíaz. That’s one more setback in a string of them for PTFC, who have now won just once in their last 11 games.


Austin FC grabbed pole position in Tejas


While much is still up for grabs in the Pacific Northwest’s rivalry cup, everything is just about decided down in Texas after a busy week in the Lone Star State. Copa Tejas is ATX’s to lose, thanks to the Verde’s 1-0 winover Houston at midweek, which keeps the central Texans tops among the trio with nine points from four games against their neighbors:


No surprises in the identity of the hero: Sebastián Driussi, whose return from injury has coincided with Austin winning five straight at home and going 6W-2L-1D over the past several weeks after a woeful start to the season. Arguably no other team in MLS is as reliant on one individual as ATX are on the Argentine.


“When needed tonight, as many times when we've needed it, he's the guy that steps up,” said head coach Josh Wolff, whose evolution from possession-prizing Pep acolyte to grizzled tactical pragmatist has been fascinating to behold, after Driussi’s winner against the Dynamo.


Austin, last year’s winners, are in the driver’s seat despite losing to FC Dallas in Frisco on the 11th, due in no small part to Dallas and Houston splitting the points at Shell Energy Stadium on Saturday. That makes ATXFC’s July 17 visit to Dallas the trophy decider, with FCD needing a win to leapfrog their younger siblings down I-35.


The Rocky Mountain Cup is chaotic catnip again


If there was an MLS Rivalries Power Rankings, one has to suspect the RMC – the hardware up for grabs when Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids cross swords – would have been spiraling down the list in recent years as RSL won seven of the last eight editions.


Many may have been in diapers at the time, but the first few years of this derby were pretty unhinged. It peaked with then-Rapids Pablo Mastroeni and Kyle Beckerman jawing at Salt Lake fans after a big Colorado win in 2006, to the point that RSL’s then-owner Dave Checketts angrily confronted Mastroeni for the perceived disrespect.


Did Mastroeni grab his crotch and taunt the crowd, with some accounts going so far as to allege that he even mooned the boobirds at Rice-Eccles Stadium? Or was he just tucking his jersey into his shorts to demonstrate how the Rapids had pocketed their opponents? Whatever happened way back then, it’s deeply ironic that the World Cup veteran is now the inspirational leader of Salt Lake’s surge to the top of the West standings, overseeing truly incredible scenes like this:


That delirious comeback adds to the sense that something profound is taking shape along the Wasatch. League MVP contender Chicho Arangospearheads a merry band of Claret-and-Cobalt gunslingers who genuinely seem to enjoy battling together and, as we’ve just learned after this one, are even offering cash bonuses to one another when they assist on goals. And like their familiar song urges, the fans Believe.


“That’s what made this game so special; the eruption after the goals,” said Mastroeni after the 5-3 thriller. “You felt it in your soul.”


Red-hot and blue? New York City FC are propelled by hate


OK, that might be overstating it; New York City FC remain a cerebral, methodical side who want to play, to beat you with the ball.


Yet the Pigeons flashed real guts to bag nine points in eight days against a trio of East foes over the past week, culminating with Saturday’s 2-1 Hudson River Derby defeat of the New York Red Bulls, which leapfrogged them past RBNY into third place in the East and fifth in the overall league table. No one in MLS has more momentum at present.


“Go attack the game. Go take the game to them. It’s a mentality,” coach Nick Cushing later explained of his halftime message with the score tied at 1-1 at Citi Field. “We've got it in our legs, we've got it in our mentality, so we have to go do it. So I was really pleased tonight that we continued to attack the game, continued to create moments.”


Finally, heartwarmingly, Mounsef Bakrar wore the hero’s cape, as the star-crossed striker came off the bench to break a 15-match scoring duck dating back to September of last year with the game-winner.


Hell is a ladder for FC Cincinnati


Who’s the only team, in MLS or Concacaf Champions Cup play, to beat the Columbus Crew since mid-March? That would be FC Cincinnati, thanks to their dramatic triumph in the latest Hell is Real derby clash.


Lucho Acosta remains the straw in Cincy’s drink, assisting on one goal and scoring the other in the 2-1 win at Lower.com Field, FCC’s first ever in Columbus, while new arrival Kevin Kelsy endeared himself to the Orange-and-Blue community by opening his MLS account against the in-state enemy.


FCC’s ability to dig deep in those final minutes underlined their resolve to mount a legitimate defense of their Supporters’ Shield title, and reminded the rest of us that Ohio remains the league’s epicenter. Cincy are producing ferocious performances most matchdays, and the defending MLS Cup holders in the state capital are counting down to the CCC final on June 1.

In case you’re wondering, like us, when Cincinnati face off against Leo Messi and Inter Miami, it’s July 6 and Aug. 24. Circle your calendars.


Florida is turning pink


Sometimes not losing is an acceptable substitute for winning when it comes to a derby situation. And plenty of Orlando City fans are thinking this statement applies to them in the wake of Wednesday’s 0-0 cross-Florida clash at Inter&Co. Stadium, given the 5-0 trouncing the Lions took in the reverse fixture in Fort Lauderdale earlier in the spring.


Really, though, Inter Miami soaked up a road point relatively comfortably despite Messi being sidelined by a knee knock. And that’s a sobering snapshot of the state of this rivalry, which holds so much promise but needs Orlando to find another gear against their southern counterparts’ star power.


IMCF keep cruising along atop the Shield table, making light of those of us who doubted their ability to sustain a truly dominant regular-season display with so many older legs for Tata Martino to manage. If Orlando want another crack at them in ‘24, they’ll have to find a way in another competition, perhaps the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – though at this point we can’t assume postseason qualification is a lock for Oscar Pareja’s sputtering Lions.


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