This weekend the big games in several different leagues are rivalry matches, and they showcase the two different types of rivalry games in soccer or in any sport.
The most common rivalries are those that arise from two teams being near each other — the famed “local derby,” as the matches are called in England. Liverpool and Everton, who play this weekend, are among the closest teams in the world — two Premier League sides sharing the same city, with their stadiums fewer than 1,000 yards apart. Similarly, Real Madrid’s trip to Atletico Madrid this weekend will cover barely four miles — though the rivalry in Spain’s biggest city is due as much to a difference in attitude, with Atletico determined to be thrifty and Real determined to spend as much as possible.
The best rivalries, though, might be those based on a shared history, not geography — between teams who’ve played so many big games on big nights that the memories begin to run together. So it goes in France, where mighty Marseille has been upstaged lately by Paris-Saint Germain, the host on Sunday. So it goes in England, where the latest chapter of the Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry plays out the same day.
Neither game is likely to decide the title these days, but the memories live on. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund visits Bayern Munich this weekend, and there, the title is still on the line. Bayern leads the league, Dortmund is in second, and with Bayern’s dominance of the league over the past few seasons, Dortmund might be the league’s only hope for a contender to dethrone the champion.
As Major League Soccer continues to develop, proximity will continue to be a factor in giving birth to rivalries — see the enmity that’s already developing between New York City FC and New York Red Bulls fans, or the so-called California Clasico between Los Angeles and San Jose. Minnesota United, for its part, will enter the league without a crosstown rival, but nevertheless with some historical bad blood.
United and Sporting Kansas City played an ill-tempered U.S. Open Cup game in 2014, and there’s a sense that there’s been no love lost since. Montreal and Portland have a history of contentious encounters with Minnesota that date back to the days when all three were in lower leagues. Rivalries between the Twin Cities and Chicago exist in virtually every other sport, and it’d be surprising if those didn’t extend to cover United vs. the Fire.
Those aside, though, Minnesota fans can only hope that they’ll develop their own version of Manchester United-Arsenal over time — a rivalry that’s based on success and playing repeated games with something on the line. It’ll take a period of sustained success to make it happen, as well as a rival with similar success — no bad thing for the Loons, who would love to see success start some big rivalry matches of their own.
• It could hardly have been a better week for soccer in Kansas City, or worse for their opponents. First, Sporting Kansas City won the 2015 U.S. Open Cup, beating Philadelphia 7-6 on penalties to take the cup for the third time in the team’s history. It was yet another disappointment for Philadelphia, which lost last year’s final in extra time. One day later, it was FC Kansas City’s turn to get in on the excitement, winning a second consecutive NWSL championship, 1-0 over the Seattle Reign. Amy Rodriguez scored the game’s only goal, leaving Seattle with a second consecutive season in which the Reign dominated the regular season but couldn’t get past Kansas City in the title game.
• Minneapolis native Mukwelle Akale, who has played many times for USA youth national teams, is impressing in Spain with Villarreal’s youth setup — but he’s not the only Akale getting attention on a national stage. Mukwelle’s younger brother Masango, just 13, was invited to a training camp with the USA under-15 national team, where he played alongside Giovanni Reyna, the son of former USA captain Claudio Reyna. Perhaps there will soon be another Akale to follow on the national stage?
• Heading into Friday night’s game at Wisconsin, the Gophers women’s soccer team was the only perfect side remaining in the Big Ten. Two comfortable wins over Indiana and Purdue last weekend helped vault Minnesota all the way up to No. 11 in the national rankings, and to the top of the conference standings — the first time they’ve been on top since they won the Big Ten title in 2008.
• The United States began Olympic qualifying on the men’s side this week with a 3-1 win over Canada. Unfortunately for two Minnesotans who have been a regular feature in the Under-23 Olympics team, though, injuries have come up at precisely the wrong time. Goalkeeper Cody Cropper, of Maple Grove, sustained a knee injury while playing for the MK Dons reserve team in England and will miss the tournament. Defender Eric Miller, of Woodbury, was all set to join the USA — but was not cleared by the doctor at Montreal, his MLS team, and thus had to miss out because of injury as well.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Premier League: Liverpool at Everton, 7:30 a.m. Sunday, NBC Sports. After the departures of Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard in the summer, nobody expected Liverpool to fly high this year — but few expected such a struggle. Manager Brendan Rogers seems increasingly desperate to turn the club’s fortunes around, as the Reds have endured some ugly performances this year, including a 3-0 loss at home to West Ham. Everton, meanwhile, seems to be on the upswing, highlighted by a 3-1 win over Chelsea that included a Steven Naismith hat trick — a feat he’d love to repeat as Everton welcomes its crosstown neighbors.
Premier League: Manchester United at Arsenal, 10 a.m. Sunday, NBC Sports. The defining rivalry of the Premier League era has lost a bit of its luster as oil billionaire owners at Chelsea and Manchester City have sent the two clubs to the top of the league. Nevertheless, the ghosts of the past live on — and this early in the season, the game has some meaning in the standings, too. United enters the weekend in first place, but a win from Arsenal could potentially allow the Gunners to supplant ManU at the top of the heap. All this match needs is former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson barking from the sidelines like old times.
Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund at Bayern Munich, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 2. Bayern has begun the season without so much as a blemish, winning all seven league games, both Champions League games, and its German Cup game. The German giants have scored 34 goals in those 10 games; they have given up three. Borussia Dortmund, which began its own season with 11 consecutive victories in all competitions, has drawn its last two league matches — undefeated still, but now four points behind Bayern at the top of the standings. Dortmund can’t afford to fall further behind at this stage of the year.
MLS: Los Angeles at Seattle, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1. Just when the Sounders seemingly have everyone healthy, the injury bug gets them again. This time, it’s center back Chad Marshall, who was carted off in practice on Wednesday with a neck sprain. Between Marshall and the injured Roman Torres, Seattle is down two center backs – never a good sign when taking on Los Angeles, even if the league leaders just ended a three-game stretch without an MLS goal. That said, the Galaxy have the West’s worst road record this season.