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2013 MLS Cup-Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City

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Time for Change: A full week of “Meh”… Sporting KC and Rivalry “Weak” a commentary from “In the Box”

Change is only eight months and 250 miles away.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Houston Dynamo had Sporting Kansas City (nee Kansas City Wizards) in their playoff hands; blatantly put, SKC were Houston’s playoff bitches.

In 2007, Kansas City had made it back to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. The joy of a win over Chivas USA was cut short by Houston in the conference final. That Houston, the ones who were the San Jose Earthquakes only three seasons before. Those Quakes, the ones who shattered the hearts of the Wizards and their fans alike with an improbable 3-2 comeback conference finals victory in 2003 in San Jose’s Spartan Stadium.

Then, Houston did it again in 2011. Then, in 2012, in the conference semifinal.

Sporting fans hated Houston. Personally, anything the color of Houston orange got me riled up! Will Bruin, Bobby Boswell, Brad Davis, and Ricardo Clark were villains, who if found spitting anywhere other than on a soccer pitch in KC would be rapidly straight-jacketed and sent to the darkest, deepest Kansas City prohibition-era underground tunnel to think about what he had done. And, both Sporting and Dynamo players were in on the rivalry.

In 2013, finally, the Dynamo demons were exorcised. Sporting beat those Houston “bastards” in a classic conference final 2nd leg featuring that Benny Feilhaber to Dom Dwyer goal.

Then, nothing happened for four years. Despite Houston bouncing Kansas City out of the 2017 playoffs in a 1-0 overtime knockout round win, the rivalry fizzled out. Ho-Hum.

A little more bite

RSL – Real Salt Lake. 2011. 2013. 2015. A preseason “brawl” inspired by a Roger Espinoza tackle on the Monarchs’ Javier Morales, after which RSL midfielder Andy Williams stated he was putting someone “on my wanted list.” A nasty Chris Wingert challenge on Sporting’s Kei Kamara and, later, a hard-fought battle in the bitter cold that saw Kansas City win MLS Cup at home over RSL, after RSL had taken the lead. Benny Feilhaber’s fiery comments of RSL’s snobbery and his “prick”ly comment on Kyle Beckerman.

Yes, Beckerman, Javier Morales, and Nick Rimando were villains of the highest order… until they weren’t and the rivalry with RSL grew stale for many. But we still hold disdain for their club anthem…

Recently, Sporting KC’s rivalry with Real Salt Lake has taken an upswing with Sporting besting RSL in the 2018 playoffs. Then, RSL, and their brash young goalkeeper David Ochoa, countered in 2021, twice. First, they beat Sporting at home, in injury time, in the last regular season match that not only featured a controversial no-call on a hand ball, but meant Sporting dropped from a possible top conference finish to third. Secondly, RSL returned to Kansas City in the playoff conference semifinal to drop Sporting in a 2-1 knock out, again in injury time.

Yet, does Real Salt Lake raise a passionate ire in the minds of Sporting fans? Maybe. The history. The bite. Both lend relevance.

Meh.

During MLS’s Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday Rivalry Week last week, Sporting Kansas City were matched with Montreal Impact (huh?), Minnesota United, and Real Salt Lake.

… Minnesota, really? Sure, Minnesota is an MLS soccer franchise, in the Midwest. They host a youth tournament called the Schwann’s USA Cup (which featured heated exchanges between KC parents and some Minneapolis based referees, I’m sure), ummm, they beat Sporting in the 2020 playoffs 3-0, which, let’s admit was an ass-whooping, but nothing happened in the match to fuel, let alone sustain, a rivalry.

Some people are trying to create an at least tepid animosity based on a preseason game that happened either in 2014 or 2015… no one seems to know… and some U.S. Open Cup encounters – one did feature 11 yellow cards. The “rivalry”, according to the link, seems strongly one-sided.

Dammit, at heart…

Maybe MLS can be blamed for Sporting’s lame “Rivalry Week”. Stadium availability, travel concerns, and conference fixtures surely played a part.

And, no, a rivalry needn’t be based on animosity. But let’s admit it, love and hate are the most powerful passions. People love to hate though, or at least have a reason to despise the competition beyond the base motivation of competition.

Speaking of Seattle Sounders… Nothing like a reason to “Rock Bottom” an opponent (but I prefer ”pile drive”, it sounds more like how Sounders’ fans would spin it to gain sympathy they can eventually betray). Or to raise their ire with some particular jabs after one of many contentious on-field encounters between Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders.

Seattle, however, has one thing all MLS supporters can’t be blamed for envying – a true impassioned rivalry with a history and a contention that is well known. All that surrounds the Sounders’ rivalry with Portland Timbers (nary 173 miles to the south with a stadium whose history goes back farther than famed Wrigley Field) is what rivalries are made of.

Why did Seattle Sounders wait to unveil their Concacaf Champions League title banner (achieved in May) until their Saturday, July 9, home match? Because the banner was not ready? Because no other match was suitable for a celebration? No and no. Because unveiling the CCL Championship banner before that match was a middle finger to their rival Portland Timbers. Don’t think the Timbers did not notice or not care.

“We first thought about CCL as, we wanted to be the first. And now that Seattle did it, we’re pissed off,” said Timbers’ Manager Giovanni Savarese. “I mean, we are very mad that we were not the first ones. So it made it even more important for us, achieving that. We want to always be on top of Seattle, we always want to do better.”

And in a show of general goodwill, Portland crashed the party with a 3-nil win. Rivalries rule.

A deep truth

A true rivalry is built on moments of contention, matches of drama where each team fights with their all. That history is relived, or at least reflected, in every match played between the combatants. And, often, images of chiding goal celebrations bring the memorable fun of rivalries: The standard “Shhhhhhh” finger to the mouth or the cupping of the ears when an away goal quiets the home stadium. D.C. United’s Alecko Eskandarian drinking a can of Red Bull on the New York pitch and promptly spitting it out in disgust.

Seattle’s Roger Levesque and Nate Jaqua’s tree toppling celebration at Portland.

Those celebrations highlight the disdain for the other side. Yet, it is the crowd that brings out what is at the center of a lasting rivalry – the constant competition between cities, the “my home city is better than your home city” that hits deep.

“Seattle and Portland as cities, it’s not only about the soccer, it’s about competing as cities,” said Savarese. “This is the opportunity to prove, one or the other, that we’re better than you…”

It’s about home, after all. Their money, their children, their beliefs, and their home. Those are the things people fight the hardest to defend and protect. And when the battle is between two cities in close proximation, two big dogs fighting for territory, the heat rises.

“Familiarity breeds contempt, and children rivalries.” - Missouri native Mark Twain

Deep-seated rivalries don’t depend on who plays, on whether or not two teams have had bitter battles in the playoffs or otherwise. Those things create nemeses, and nemeses enhance a rivalry no doubt, but rivalries do not cycle in intensity due to any of them.

Only a true rival pulls something out of you from deep down, that visceral “hate” can only come from familiarity. And Sporting Kansas City and its fans have gone without that deep-seated rivalry for 26 years in MLS. With the entry of St. Louis City SC in MLS next season, Sporting and its fans will enjoy, will relish in, a rivalry like none before.

The Blue Testament contributor’s @downthebyline’s sarcasm is at full bore there.

Some may say, ‘There is no history between the two teams, literally. Talk about manufacturing a rivalry (like the Minnesota one).’

Right. Yet, mention St. Louis to 90% of Kansas Citians (soccer fan or not), and one will get an immediate response… either a stomach churning, a scour on the face, or a statement of Kansas City’s superiority. Most likely all three.

The Gateway to the West v the Real gateway to the west. Beer v Whiskey (and beer). Italian cuisine v BBQ. The Blues v Jazz. East conceit v West whimsy. The list goes on and on…

And, believe me, the first time a St. Louis City player hacks down a Sporting KC player, that player and that moment and each succeeding one will be drowned in boos like have never been heard at Children’s Mercy Park. The same will be true for that generic box called Centene Stadium in St. Louis.

Indifference is the poison to the energy of social change. Indifference is also the poison to needed distractions like rivalries in sports. Will any true Sporting Kansas City fan be indifferent about a loss to St. Louis City? No. And neither will any true Kansas Citian. The energy and broad passion of an intra- or inter- state rivalry does not know indifference.

The harbinger of history

“The two biggest cities in Missouri, at opposite ends of Interstate 70, exist in a permanent state of intrastate rivalry. Snark abounds in discussions between the two” is how an article co-written by staffs of the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch summarized feelings between the two cities.

The Royals v The Cardinals in baseball. See 1985. I was in Columbia, MO, during part of the I-70 World Series as a wide-eyed, hardly-drank-any-before teenager. I was a changed person after that weekend… As a St. Louis native, I was a staunch Cardinals fan more than ever, and, for the first time, I developed a sneer towards the Royals. But that may have been the champagne breakfast and the beer…

Years before that, the St. Louis Steamers v Kansas City Comets rivalry had begun its climb during the heyday of indoor soccer in the U.S. There is where my heels dug in. The Steamers were my team, my inspiration in all things soccer, the reason I built a soccer goal in my backyard and taught myself how to play in the multitude of hours to come. The Comets… well, ha, excuse me while I chuckle and aim my gaze downward…

From 1979 thru 1988, the Steamers were three-time division champs, but were unable to win the finals each time. That still hurts. From 1979-1991, the Comets reached the division championships series thrice, failing to reach the finals each time. However, the Comets defeated the Steamers in the 1985 playoffs. Well done, KC, well done. But I chose to include video from a Steamers’ win in their 1984 playoff series triumph over the Comets. Because that’s what rivalries do… they make one side with their team. No matter. But they also sometimes invite respect, begrudgingly.

Now, as a Kansas Citian since 1987 with family all over St. Louis, my on-field hope for the Sporting Kansas City v St. Louis City SC rivalry emanates from here: If Sporting Kansas City – with their titles and trophies – is the St. Louis Steamers, let’s at least hope St. Louis City SC can be the Kansas City Comets.

Deeper. Let’s step back to 1968. The North American Soccer League is in its second year. An infant in soccer terms, hell, in all terms. It is Saturday, April 27, and the Kansas City Spurs are hosting the St. Louis Stars at Municipal Stadium in the NASL’s first telecast. Did you know this happened? Right here in Kansas City. The Spurs struck for four while shutting out the Stars. Damn, I can’t wait for that to happen sometime next spring. Welcome to MLS, St. Louis City SC! The Spurs won the NASL title in 1969, a feat the Stars – runners-up in 1972 – never achieved.

Before that beatdown, St. Louis had been the top dog in soccer in the ENTIRE country. For decades. (Though New York had a large claim with 26 National Challenge Cup/U.S. Open Cup titles to St. Louis’s 10.) In 1915 at its inception, the St. Louis Soccer League was the only professional soccer league in the United States. The SLSL lasted until 1938.

Back to the here and now. When Kansas City and St. Louis kickoff in an MLS match pitting the two clubs one against the other for the first time in 2023, it will be the original soccer capital of America v the city who has a major stake in the claim of America’s current soccer capital. Kansas City’s case: Lamar Hunt’s legacy, a preponderance of World Class soccer facilities, two MLS Cup Championships, confirmed hosts to 2026 FIFA World Cup matches, and four U.S. Open Cup Championships (and possibly a 5th in the making) in the modern era.

And not being stupid:

The dream

The dream Rivalry Week for Sporting Kansas City in 2023 and beyond would be a series of matches against Real Salt Lake, Seattle, and St. Louis.

The combination brings all that rivalries should be, with the KC v St. Louis rivalry being the granddaddy of them all. What happens, though, if St. Louis City SC sucks? Yes, rivalries ramp up when both teams are in contention for championships. But a rivalry so deeply rooted, so personal, does not waver with the standings.

History. Traumatizing defeats and dramatic victories, maybe many. Bite. The visceral responses to just mention of the rival city. Loving to hate. Villains and Heroes and fan antics targeted at the other (Bring on the chants and some epic tifos!). Home v home passion.

Bring on a real rival for Sporting Kansas City. Something they and their fans have been missing for 26 years now. Sorry, not sorry, St. Louis, but Kansas City deserves this much more than you. Good luck catching up. You will strengthen MLS. But we hope you fall flat on your face, with the largest of shoves from us.

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