Commentary / Featured / Union

Is tonight’s game a rivalry match?

Photo by Paul Rudderow

More than left backs, central attacking midfielders, or paved parking lots, the one thing Union fans yearn for every season is a real rivalry.

Multiple attempts have been made to force Red Bull fill that role, but it’s never really stuck. D.C. United makes sense geographically, but ironically they view Red Bull as their primary rival and New York agrees. Beyond that, no team leaps out as an obvious candidate to fill the role.

Which means non-obvious candidates must be considered.

Sporting Kansas City are certainly not obvious. Kansas City doesn’t really show up on most Philadelphians’ sports radar.

But the history between the two teams, on and off the field, makes a case that should be at least considered, if not actively pursued.

C.J. Sapong

The most significant rivalry in American sports, Red Sox-Yankees, hinges on the 1920 trade of then-pitcher Babe Ruth. Allegedly, the proceeds were spent on producing a musical.

All SKC got when they traded Sapong was a 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick, which they used to select the winger Connor Hallisey. He made 30 appearances for Kansas City (and one for their USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers) but never found the same success that Philadelphia found with Sapong. Unfortunately though, Kansas City fans don’t seem to begrudge the trade; in fact most of them seem to wish C.J. well.

2015 US Open Cup final

No matter how either team is playing in the rest of the season, Union-SKC games tend to be closely contested. All time, the teams have taken five wins a piece from each other, with four draws thrown in to keep things balanced.

No game was more closely contested, or ultimately heartbreaking for the Union, than the 2015 U.S. Open Cup Final. Played in Chester at Talen Energy Stadium (then called PPL Park), the home side was ahead by one after the first half due to a Sebastien LeToux goal in the 23rd minute, but Krisztián Németh brought SKC level in the 65th. Neither team distinguished themselves in 30 minutes of extra time. In fact the game was so closely contested that both teams sent eight players to the spot when the game was eventually brought to PKs. However, despite the efforts of shot stopping specialist John McCarthy, Kansas City were eventually victorious and won their third U.S. Open Cup while denying the Union their first ever. This was a game that was hard-fought by both teams, evidenced by the 10 yellow cards issued during the game as well as the nail-biting conclusion.

Keegan Rosenberry

Probably the most compelling argument for a rivalry with Kansas City is the rumors and allegations surrounding Keegan Rosenberry and the league’s denial of his claim to homegrown player status.

Despite spending time at Reading United and the Philadelphia Union Academy, it was determined that his time at Georgetown disqualified him from the homegrown designation and forced him to go through the MLS SuperDraft in order to join the league. Allegedly, Rosenberry was on track to get homegrown status, and it was only after SKC pursued the issue that the league decided to deny the claim.

Now, there’s no way of knowing what the Union would have done with the saved cap space by having Rosenberry as a homegrown, and it’s possible having him already secure could have meant the Union would not have been so aggressive at that year’s SuperDraft. But undoubtedly SKC played a part in keeping the Union from getting what they wanted, and that’s the stuff rivalries are made of.

So is it a rivalry?

Well, not yet. Especially since SKC moved to the Western Conference, barring a moment of significantly poor sportsmanship the teams see too little of each other for any animosity to take root. But it could take root if the opportunity presents itself, given the fertile background between the two teams that currently rests at merely competitive and could very easily be recast as acrimonious.


  1. QuillosMyCat says:

    I don’t care if KK or anyone else thinks the Redbulls are our rivals. To me they are. I hate them with every fiber of my being.

    • Yeah, even if they view DC as more of a rival because of longevity or NYCFC because of location, they do not like us. It’s a rivalry even if it’s still growing.

  2. pragmatist says:

    I can understand the perspective on this, but I’ve never had a real dislike or any strong emotion towards SKC (with the exception of Zusi’s ridiculous man-bun).
    When Dom Kinnear, Brian Ching, et al were in HOU, I HATED them. Diving, whining…man I hated them.
    DC is as close as we get.
    The fact is that we haven’t been around long enough, and we certainly haven’t been good long enough (at all?) for any type of animosity to build up. People keep asking about our rivals, and I go back to the old, accurate axiom: If you have to ask, it’s not a rivalry.

    • That open cup game made me hate them. They fouled so much. 7 of the 10 yellow cards we to them and honestly they should have had about 5 more. The ref swallowed his whistle so hard it was pathetic. Also Fabinho constantly roasting Zusi was wonderful.

    • agreed on the haven’t been around long/good enough to warrant it. seems like all we’re doing is shouting for a fight and no one is taking us up on it. by geographic proximity and general hate for all things NY/NJ, its red bulls. we have little else to consider a beef with any other team.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    The Union are in a similar situation to the Eagles. The Eagles consider Dallas their primary rival but I’m pretty sure the Bullgirl fans (I’m pretty sure if I call them Bullgirls I’m less likely to be considered sexist for calling a certain team from Harrison the Pink Cows) consider the Redskins to be their top rivals. Certainly that’s the case historically dating back to the George Marshall trying to block their entry into the league.
    So if the Eagles don’t have a true two way rivalry why do the Union need one?

  4. “Rivaly Game” is so trendy. So…forced.
    I read it somewhere (wish I could take credit for it) that the teams MLS tries to establish as the U’s ‘rivals’ really view the Union as the annoying little brother who wants to play with big brother and his friends.
    Until we are consistently good, and teams circle the Union games as something special, I’d wish people would stop trying to force it. Let it happen naturally.

    • Agree completely. Winning brings with it others contempt in all sports, as their fans become more obnoxious over their winner status and they get national bandwagon fans buying jerseys. I personally like a regional/divisional rivalry as you get other fans at games, in bars, etc. to debate. Philly v NJ or NY is the most natural, but we need to be good first…

  5. Kevin1813 says:

    What constitutes a rivalry varies person to person. What I know is that when a team brings numerous away supporters it adds to the game atmosphere and I want to beat them more. I could care less if that constitutes a rivalry to some.
    To me, rivalries are games against teams I want to beat more than the average team. I don’t care if it’s the main rivalry or even a rivalry at all to that team and it’s fans or not.

  6. its an interesting point. its funny, i don’t hate skc, but i feel like i remember all of the games we play against them more than i remember other ones. they always feel more entertaining and somehow more weighty. i couldn’t say why but i always look forward to playing them ever year

  7. scottymac says:

    competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

    Not a rivalry. I think at this point our rivals are Harrisburg or the Revs.
    One day when we’re good maybe we’ll “rival” other teams, but we haven’t been superior yet. Maybe if we hadn’t subbed a keeper and won a Cup against them it might feel that way for them.

  8. I really do not like SKC. My dislike started with the Union’s US Open Cup loss to SKC in the semi-finals of the 2012 Cup. Espinoza flopped around and it was such a frustrating 2-0 home loss. This combined with the items mentioned in the article and Vermes petulant attitude on the sidelines makes me severely dislike them. That intense dislike is a key ingredient for me to consider them a rival.
    I still view Red Bulls and DC as more rivals, but SKC I put third.

  9. Matt Thornton says:

    Never forget the time the entire River End serenaded Peter Vermes with a round of 99 bottles of beer on the wall. Keys out. Full voice. Down to 0.

    “99 bottles of beer on the wall,
    99 bottles of beer,
    98 bottles of beer on the wall.”

  10. el Pachyderm says:

    My POV…In a league trying to contrive everything….why does this matter.
    Stop taking the bait…

  11. Old Soccer Coach says:

    There is a rivalry game in the organization, but it is nascent and it is in the USL.
    Harrisburg v Bethlehem.
    They are close. They dislike each other, there is history that is real, even if games have only been played for two seasons.
    The point about being relatively equal competitively is important.
    More important than fans’ views are the views within the team, including coaches.

  12. I agree, don’t need to call it a rivalry, don’t need the term to hate the bulls d’pink.. I actually think calling it a rivalry adds a bit of “friendly competition” light to it… nope…

    My favorite team is the Union and who ever is playing the bulls.

  13. pragmatist says:

    If SKC keeps choking our players, it could ramp up the emotion a bit…

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