Minnesota’s entry into Major League Soccer next year means a host of new opponents will be coming to Minneapolis. For Loons fans, it may take time to get up to speed on MLS’ various franchises, but there are a few enemies to know — some old and some new.
Minnesota will be in the Western Conference, meaning that its closest conference rival will be Sporting Kansas City — a team with which the Loons already have a history. The teams have played twice in the past three years in the U.S. Open Cup, plus numerous times in preseason exhibitions, and a physical rivalry has developed on the field.
Fans will take the lead from the contentious on-field battles, such as this year’s U.S. Open Cup meeting, which featured a pile of yellow cards and one teamwide shoving match. Mutual dislike should grow briskly: Minnesota will play its Midwestern rivals two or three times a year, and proximity means that big groups of away fans will travel to each city. This is also true of Chicago, but the Fire is in the Eastern Conference, giving fans only one game per year to build a rivalry.
United fans should also quickly develop a distaste for the Los Angeles Galaxy, the MLS version of the New York Yankees. Los Angeles is the league’s marquee franchise and seems to have a different set of rules than every other team. David Beckham never would have played for the Galaxy if the league hadn’t conveniently invented the “designated player” rule to stretch the salary cap.
Mexican star Giovanni dos Santos let it be known he’d be open to playing for L.A. last year, and the league invented a complicated “Targeted Allocation Money” rule to, in effect, give the Galaxy a fourth designated player. For the rest of the league, which doesn’t get these advantages, it’s infuriating to watch the league office bend its rules to give the Galaxy whatever it wants — and infuriating to watch the team constantly win championships.
New enemies aside, the move to MLS means the resumption of some old rivalries as well. Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Montreal are all old rivals, from the days when the four were in the second division with Minnesota. The Dark Clouds supporters group already has a rude song about Timbers fans, ready to return from the old days, and has plenty of stories about past visits from the Sounders, Whitecaps and Impact. Longtime fans are looking forward to rekindling the old hatreds, and newer fans will soon pick up on the rivalries.
The best rivalries, though, are the ones based on geography. Since Milwaukee’s second-division team folded in 2004, Minnesota has been without a long-term Midwestern rival. Moving to a league with Kansas City and Chicago, rivalrywise, is a step in the right direction.
• The start of college football this week has reminded me just how similar it is to European soccer. There are five big leagues in both, the big teams in every league are competing more with each other than they are with their league, and the money — especially the television money — seems completely out of control. Perhaps college football, not American soccer, is the better candidate for European soccer-style rules, such as promotion and relegation, or a transfer system.
• U.S. Soccer’s six-month suspension of national team goalkeeper Hope Solo is ostensibly because of her sour-grapes comments about Sweden being “cowards.” Let’s be honest, though: Suspending her at the end of her career, with no major tournament upcoming, isn’t exactly a statement of principle from the governing body.
• The U.S. men’s national team has its next two World Cup qualifiers coming up — Friday against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Sept. 6 against Trinidad and Tobago. The Americans are expected to win both games, which would put them into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. Anything short of two wins, and the U.S. would be in danger of failing to make the final round — an unthinkable failure.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Bundesliga: Bayer Leverkeusen at Borussia Monchengladbach, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 9. The Bundesliga is finally back, and the opening weekend is highlighted by this matchup of last year’s third- and fourth-place teams. Mexican star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez drove Leverkeusen forward last year, but he’ll miss out on this one — after falling down the stairs at home.
Premier League: West Ham at Manchester City, 10 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. West Ham’s seventh-place finish last season was built on an exceptional record on the road. The Hammers have looked a little lifeless this year, including an elimination loss in the Europa League playoffs in midweek, so perhaps a chance to slow down City will kick-start them.
Liga MX: Chivas at Club America, 9 p.m. Saturday, Univision. America would normally be favored at home in this edition of Mexico’s biggest rivalry, “El Super Clasico,” but playmaker Rubens Sambueza was sent off last weekend, meaning he’ll miss this game. It will put a dent in the home team’s attack. Angel Zaldivar scored twice last week for Chivas; can he do it again?
MLS: Seattle at Portland, 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. The Sounders handed Portland a 3-1 drubbing last Sunday in Seattle; now, the two have a rematch in Portland. Seattle had to play midweek, earning a draw in Houston to move just one point behind the Timbers in the race for the final playoff spot. Expect a postseason-type atmosphere for this game — on top of the usual rivalry.