As D.C. United fans, we all know that the most important rivalry in the league is with that team with no trophies up in Jersey. But there's also an undeniable bit of hostility toward the other east coast teams in the league, from Philadelphia and New England. Recently, I had a chat with the managing editors of Philadelphia Union site the Brotherly Game, Wm Murphy, and New England Revolution site The Bent Musket, Steve Stoehr. Murph sent around a few questions about the rivalries of the I-95 corridor, and the three of us shared our answers. Here's how it went down.
How important are regional rivalries in MLS?
AT: In a word, very. The hardcore supporters obviously get up for regional clashes - the DC supporters section is never more full than when the Metros are in town, and obviously the Cascadia Cup matters a lot to people on the opposite end of the country. But it goes beyond that: rivalries provide context for casual fans, in MLS as in other leagues and sports. National TV networks go out of their way to feature rivalry games in MLS, and if you think about it, you're probably more likely to watch Duke-Carolina basketball or Ohio State-Michigan football than you are even a match up of better teams without the history.
WM: In Philadelphia regional rivalries are very important. Philadelphia suffers from an inferiority complex, especially in sporting terms. Very often successful franchise years for other Philadelphia sports clubs have been defined by how many times and how badly you could beat your regional rival. In soccer, the Union are still so new that those genetically ingrained rivalries are the ones immediately circled on the calendar so obviously the I-95 corridor teams get a lot of attention within the fan base, whether hardcore or casual.
SS: I believe they are. While every other sports league has its cross-country or seemingly-arbitrary rivalries that are important to its appeal (Celtics-Lakers, for example), regional clashes are the traditional backbone of sports rivalry.Sox-Yankees, Michigan-Ohio State, and even MLS regional bouts like Timbers-Sounders play upon natural feelings of identity and solidarity that form within communities, and it's often difficult to replicate that in any other way, at least for a lasting rivalry. Look overseas; the biggest derbies are matches like the Merseyside Derby, the Tyne-Wear Derby, and the Clasico. Proximity breeds animosity, and in any rivalry, you need that feeling of unreasonable distaste for your opponent.
What is your view on the "I-95 Corridor" rivalry?
SS: I view it as something with serious potential. There's history between all the clubs, both within the MLS context and without. Nobody in New England particularly likes New York, Revs fans hate Union fans for past transgressions before Philly even had a team, and the Revs and D.C. have played some pretty high-stakes and aggressively-charged matches in the past. That's just on New England's end. The other teams can find ample reason to hate each other, too. Unfortunately, it just hasn't gotten there yet. There's a strong segment of fans who don't care, or see it as a made-up cup with no real significance. At this point, it's still obviously a fiction, but I view the sentiment that it's useless and doesn't have a place in MLS as unreasonably snobbish. If a concerted effort could get it off the ground, I think over time it could become a storied and organic rivalry series in a similar vein to the Cascadia Cup.
AT: Honestly, from DC's perspective, the one-on-one rivalry with New York is the big one, but Philly is growing in importance a lot, and the Revs have never been liked down here. It might be a failure of marketing or imagination so far, but I don't think many United fans consider the combination of all four teams (to be five in 2015, of course) as a coherent group rivalry. I really doubt there would be any opposition to the creation of a mini-league, though, if a group of fans got together across team lines to organize something more formal.
WM: Again, all Philadelphia sports fans genetically hate all things New York, and to a lesser extent Boston. The individual Red Bull rivalry reeks of jealousy and inferiority. The Revolution matches have not been without incident, but the fan base just seem to not really care. The biggest focus this season has been the continuation and escalation of the DCU rivalry. It's my understanding that both teams supporters groups have pretty cordial relations but the action on the field portrays two sets of players that genuinely dislike each other. It;s been violent and very chippy every time the two clubs meet. I am a much bigger fan of the organic rivalry than any other.
Do you know if any of your clubs supporter groups are actively trying to make some sort of "I-95 Cup" a reality?
AT: I'm actually not super close to the SG leadership, so I can't speak on this. (Hey, readers who have more info than I do on this: let us know in the comments what you can about any efforts by the various DC supporters groups on this front. Thanks!)
WM: I contacted (at the time) Sons of Ben president Corey Furlan and was told that multiple attempts havebeen made by both himself and his predecessors to make an I-95 Cup a reality. He had this to say:
"...everyone was 100% on board with it every time it was brought up, DC was in, NE was in....except NY, those guys would never get back to anyone about it...so it would come up every year and get dropped because of the guys from NY" - former SOB president Corey Furlan
SS: I do know that the Riders and the Rebels have discussed it and made serious efforts. I think the problem was getting other SGs from other teams on board. At one point we had proposals for a trophy and such, but I'm not sure where that's ended up in the meantime.
How do you foresee MLS expansion affecting I-95 Corridor rivalries? Will it be different in the future?
WM: I welcome the expansion and think that NYCFC will add a new dimension to the rivalry. The obviously coming Miami team and the possibility of Orlando entering the league will eventually make the I-95 corridor into its own mini league. I would also be a huge proponent of friendlies and interleague play with the NASL and USL Pro teams counting towards an cup conceived, financed by, and entirely administered by fans. The biggest problem would be trying to decide how far from I-95 would a team be allowed to be and still compete in the rivalry. These things are good for the fans and great for the game.
AT: First off, I don't think it will dilute anything. DC-Red Bulls will always be DC-Red Bulls, even if there's a new noisy neighbor in the Bronx. United's rivalry with the Union is based more on animosity on the field than anything in the stands, where things are remarkably friendly between the fan bases (at least in my experience with the SOBs).
SS: The only serious impact I could see would come from a Miami expansion. Obviously, Magic City is on I-95, so if the I-95 Cup were to be all-inclusive, it would have to feature Miami, as well. I'm not sure how well that would work, though; Miami doesn't have a historic rivalry with any of the other clubs or cities. It would be interesting to see how that was handled. The Carolina Triangle area is also near I-95, but I don't think that would count. Any other expansion near to existing clubs, such as a Carolina expansion creating a rivalry with D.C., wouldn't matter. The Revs still have a bit of a rivalry with Chicago, Houston, and L.A. for various reasons; that isn't affected by any mutual dislike with the corridor clubs.
Once and for all, who do you consider your biggest rivals and why?
AT: For D.C. United, it's the Metros. It's always been the Metros, and near as I can tell it's always going to be the Metros. It dates back to the league's founding in 1996 - as the Empire Supporters Club likes to remind us with banners every time the Black-and-Red visit RBA, they've been the "D.C. Haters since '96." There's actual history between the clubs, with big playoff meetings and dramatic, unbelievable-except-they-happened endings to games.
SS: This is a very, very difficult question. The Revs developed rivalries with Chicago and Houston for playoff/MLS Cup reasons, inherited Boston's dislike for Los Angeles, and maintain bad blood with New York based on principle. D.C. developed probably as a hybrid of a playoff and regional rivalry. It feels most of the time like the top spot fluctuates with the times; right now, for example, I'm really down on Houston. I really, really don't like them, and personally they're my biggest rivals for the Revs. That's not necessarily how everyone else feels. Honestly, the one undying rivalry that will probably never go away is New York. Even at its ebb, people from most of New England just do not like New York, and never will. Some of these other rivalries may eventually die out, as New England's '70s rivalry with the Raiders did in the NFL, but this area's hatred for the Big Apple will never fade.
WM: I hate to say this but being quite honest, I am not sure the Union have enough time in MLS to have a "rival" per se. The budding DCU rivalry is great to watch begin to grow and I hope it continues. Union fans tend to consider Red Bull their primary rivals but I am certain the feeling isn't mutual. There have been a few matches against Seattle Soundersand Portland Timbers that have heated up, but again nothing more than a slow smoldering is happening at the moment. Hopefully over time one of those sparks can turn into a full-fledged conflagration, but for the moment, we are still too young of a franchise.