Cascadia rivalry should inform expansion

Photo: Courtesy of The Endline

There are plenty of people who are sick of the whole Cascadia thing. It’s a great rivalry, but the hype can get a little tiring. You can’t deny that they bring in a lot of gate.

Gate isn’t exactly what MLS is after at this point. Their target is television bucks.

One theory is that the Cascadian crowds do translate well to television. There is something to that.

Commissioner Don Garber should aim to replicate in other cities the things Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are doing well. He has a chance to do that with the next four expansion teams. How can that happen?

True Rivalries

While there are other good rivalries outside of the great Northwest, there are a number of teams that lack a clear hated rival. Let’s take stock of the current scene:

  • Cascadia – Seattle, Portland, Vancouver
  • California – Los Angeles & San Jose (the doormat co-inhabitant of the StubHub Center isn’t a quality participant now)
  • Rocky Mountain – Real Salt Lake & Colorado
  • I-95 – New York, New England, DC United, and Philadelphia (except DC-NE)
  • Canadian – Toronto & Montreal

There are a few contrived rivalries, and a few that are clearly there for the taking if MLS would act. The Texas Derby was a great scrum before Houston was shoehorned into the Eastern Conference. So now, they’ve tried to make something out of Sporting KC and Houston, but it’s not nearly as exciting as billed. It also leaves Dallas in the lurch without a real enemy.

You could also have Kansas City being foes of Chicago, but the distance between the two cities is problematic. It would also help if Chicago continues to improve on the pitch.

Better exploit known quantities

First off, we already know about NYC FC. Presumably they will enjoy a health crosstown rivalry with the Red Bulls. If MLS plays their cards right, New England would be able to claim a piece of that rivalry as well. It would leave DCU and the Union as clear rivals, with the Red Bulls enjoying a healthy secondary rivalry with both of those teams.

The California Derby would be well served to have Chivas USA rebrand. A fully functional LA2 team would be an excellent rival to both the Galaxy and the Earthquakes. San Jose is quite removed from Los Angeles, but their rivalry with the Galaxy is already established.

So that leaves a few teams without a natural rival: Sporting KC, Chicago, Columbus, and FC Dallas.

Seed teams for new rivalries

The league should consider seeding teams to bolster existing and create new rivalries. One of the best things about any real derby is seeing a full supporters section. That ups the ante of the home crowd, and seems to inspire the bile that brings on a great atmosphere.

There are four additional teams planned before 2020. Two of those are already close to shoe-ins, and Orlando City and Miami will create what MLS can only hope will be a vibrant Florida rivalry.

The next franchise I would propose is St. Louis. The Midwest Cup appears to be a great rivalry opportunity that has gone underexploited in other sports. St. Louis is somewhat centric to both Kansas City and Chicago and could become a common rival. The Gateway City also has a great history for soccer.

The fourth expansion team could fit in a number of places. I like San Antonio best, creating a triangular Texas Cup. San Francisco or Sacramento could pair up with San Jose, leaving Chivas USA to sort out their situation for the benefit of the Galaxy’s rival. Ottawa might also provide a central link between Toronto and Montreal, enhancing all three.

Cities that might deserve a team but aren’t able to exploit regional rivalries as well would be Atlanta or Minnesota. Minnesota’s closes rival would be Chicago at 500 miles. Atlanta is nearly as far from Orlando as it is from St. Louis.

Possible relocation?

The one difficulty that arises from these rivalries is expressing them into groupings. Other American sports tend to break down big conferences into smaller divisions. If you start doing that, pushing these rivalries into 5-8 team divisions gets a little muddy.

There are a couple of potential variables. One would be Chivas USA, and the other would be Columbus. Both could relocate.

MLS wants to keep a second LA team, and so that may impact a move for them. Columbus’ stadium is older, but its standing as the favored site for US Men’s National Team qualifiers against Mexico seems to help the city’s cause. New owner Anthony Precourt has hinted at a rebrand but not a move. Time will tell whether the West Coast-based investor has other plans for the Crew.

The next few years should be exciting for the expansion of the league. If done right, the new teams could not only be quality additions in their own right but also add something to the fabric of the rivalries within the league. Of course MLS will have to weigh location versus funding, but here’s hoping the new investment can come from the right spots.


  1. Given that most of the likely new teams are in the east, it seems highly likely that Houston will get put back in the west which would renew the Houston-Dallas rivalry.

  2. I would love to see the league – or at least the teams – play up the I95 Derby a bit. There’s a solid chance for some marketing there that they seem to be completely ignoring.

    • I think that, in general, MLS undersells itself. It places excellent matchups at hours that fail to suit much of the country (see tonight’s Seattle-Colorado playoff matchup).

      • Yep, I agree. Hopefully the next TV contract gives them a set time every week for a national game.
        Once in a while you hear them mention the Rockie Mountain Cup. And they prattle on incessantly about the Cascadia Cup. Meanwhile, they have Boston, New York, Philly, DC are all huge population cities and important TV markets, and nothin’ but crickets…

  3. Although Pittsburgh isn’t a big TV revenue town it could help Colombus as a rivalry as well as Philly …

    • I like the idea of a Pittsburgh-Columbus derby – maybe call it the Rust Belt or something of the sort. The Riverhounds need to jump from USL-Pro to NASL if they want that to happen. They need to get Highmark Stadium rocking and selling out routinely. It sounds like a sweet stadium in an interesting area just across the Monongahela from downtown.

  4. John O'Donnell says:

    Columbus and Toronto are rivals and they play for the Trillium Cup. They also have a rivalry with Chicago as the cities are only 6 hours apart.

    • The Trillium Cup is a joke, a contrived attempt to create some kind of rival for Columbus.

      Personally think 6 hours is a little too far to create a solid rivalry.

      All I’m saying is that you have cities that make sense to help breed further matchups that promote lively regional tensions. Unfortunately MLS has a tougher time selling long-distance rivalries. Television does plenty to pump up matchups like Cowboys-Eagles. MLS doesn’t get that kind of benefit. That’s why I feel developing a raucous crowd is important.

      I think the most important step that MLS has clearly identified is that Orlando is going to need a partner to liven things up. Miami will hopefully provide the team, but the Beckham factor needs to also draw the crowd. If they can succeed in fielding a successful team with solid promotion, maybe they can finally conquer Florida.

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