Photo: Nicolae Stoian
Some rivalries are natural: Geography, time or success push two franchises and fan bases up against each other like tectonic plates.
Portland and Vancouver could have been 3000 miles apart when they were awarded MLS franchises for the 2011 season and there still would be a rivalry there. You come into the league with someone else, you want to get better faster than them, achieve more than them, and – most of all – beat them head to head.
And how many Philadelphians need a lousy interstate to show us how close Washington, DC and New York are to the City of Brotherly Love? If you find a nice, quiet place in Philly at night you can hear the echoes of thousands of New Yorkers telling each other how cool New York is as they pay $10 for their Yuenglings. Echoes are something DC fans are familiar with since they regularly leave two-thirds of their (American) football stadium empty for home games.
Arrival time and location are the two most common sources of rivalries, but the Philadelphia Union have been hard at work nurturing animosities with less likely suitors.
In dealing Philly its first playoff loss (and, in the process, diving like there was buried gold under Robertson Stadium), the Dynamo can expect a somewhat hostile reception when they arrive at PPL Park in late September. The Picasso-like renderings of a formation that Peter Nowak unleashed on the MLS playoffs allowed Houston to boss around the normally-stout Union defense in the first leg while the team’s inexperience and overall confusion as to what exactly everyone was supposed to be doing in leg two let a golden opportunity slip from Philadelphia’s grasp.
Was it Houston’s fault? Aside from the sudden bouts of vertigo developed by Brian Ching and Danny Cruz, no. But they enter 2012 as the defending Eastern Conference champions, and that is a banner that could have been flying over PPL Park in 2012.
So yes, those Houston boys will hear it when they arrive in Chester this September.
There is something more to the Houston rivalry, a philosophical difference in how Dominic Kinnear and Peter Nowak approach the game. Kinnear has built a very successful system and brings in the players that fit. Peter Nowak has put together an undeniably talented team playing in a system that, at times, resembles a nightmarish game of Marco Polo. Add to this the tragic point of comparison that could easily become the Union’s stigma: Houston’s front office did what it had to do to make sure the face of the franchise wears orange until he hangs up his boots; in Philly a lot of people are trying to paste “McInerney” over “Le Toux.”
There were signs that the Union and the Whitecaps were watering the seeds of a rivalry in the first few minutes of Philadelphia’s 2011 home opener. Sebastien Le Toux is a fair play award winner, but Eric Hassli was out to show that not all Frenchman consider tackling a skill to be learned and used in moderation. Sent off before halftime, Hassli would have been an isolated villain on an otherwise nondescript Vancouver team
But then the Whitecaps started throwing around cash.
The first and less controversial move saw Jordan Harvey hop the border midseason. Apparently Vancouver had so much allocation money burning a hole in their pockets that Philadelphia just couldn’t turn them down. Harvey was a fan favorite and an all-around groovy guy, but few thought he was beyond replacing. Which was good, considering the team did not even try to replace him until the offseason.
Take our left back? Fine, fine. Our defense is strong enough to survive.
…Take our hero?
There isn’t anything inherently wrong about swooping in to capitalize on a sudden player-manager rift. But now Sebastien Le Toux is a Whitecap. And as much as we may wish Seba the best in his new digs, it will burn like hell to see Vancouver succeed behind the talents of Philly’s favorite Frenchman.
For fans, Whitecap success is going to feel like Derice Bannock in Cool Runnings. We will be lying on the dirt because some outside force tripped us, watching as someone less deserving takes advantage of our misfortune and wins the race.
DC and New York? Yeah, those are great rivalries. They come to our house, we drown them out. We go to their house, we drown them out. Proximity breeds a close and emotionally intense relationship. But for fans of history, for people who are watching this Union franchise grow and develop, these rivalries with more distant powers are the stuff of legend.
It starts with a Hassli red card, but in ten years all anybody remembers is that the Vancouver-Philadelphia match is a rough, physical and downright unfriendly affair that will rival any DC United game in intensity.
Only two years in, Philadelphia has earned a reputation as a team that never, ever gives in. That kind of attitude frustrates opponents. And frustrated opponents remember you. Who will the Union develop a rivalry with in 2012? My money is on Kansas City. What do you think?