As soccer leagues go, Major League Soccer is fairly young: it’s only been around for 20 years.
But in that time, the teams in America’s top-flight soccer league have developed some of the best rivalries in American sports, and some of the best soccer rivalries worldwide. The die-hard soccer fanatics who flocked to the league in its early years built an intense fan culture that’s begun to be adopted more widely as the league has grown, making each MLS rivalry game a spectacle to behold.
Any local or conference rivalry match will feature chanting, songs, and tifos, but of all the rivalries in MLS, these four are the best.
Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake
Most of the great MLS rivalries are regional, and Colorado and Salt Lake fit that bill for the inland West. Real Salt Lake has historically been the better of the two squads, and they haven’t just gotten the better of Colorado on the field: they’ve also had the edge on the trade market, picking up Kyle Beckerman from the Rapids and turning him into a legitimate star. Though this rivalry is only a decade old (Real Salt Lake didn’t join the league until 2005), it’s one of the most intense in MLS.
Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes
California is a big state, but it isn’t big enough for this set of angry neighbors. The Earthquakes and Galaxy are two of the league’s most successful teams, and they’ve clashed again and again in the playoffs and in the so-called “California Clasico” in the regular season. The players on both teams have really taken this rivalry to heart, leading to some altercations on the field to match the passion in the stands.
New York Red Bulls and DC United
These two founding members of the league have had 20 years to learn how to hate each other, and they’ve become very good at it. DC has had the better of the rivalry historically, frequently booting the New York Red Bulls from the playoffs and winning four MLS Cups to RBNY’s zero. Recently, though, the pair is more evenly matched: New York finally beat DC in the playoffs at Red Bull Arena last year, and they’re the top two teams in the East so far this year.
The Red Bulls also have a budding rivalry with new club New York City FC that could soon join the rivalries on this list as one of the most intense in MLS. For now, though, it’s the New York-DC rivalry that has the history – and the bad blood – to make the cut.
Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the country’s most die-hard soccer fanatics, and their passion is very much on display in this rivalry. The showdowns between Portland and Seattle are perhaps the best rivalry games on the MLS schedule, both because of the quality of play and because of the intensity of the fans. These two teams were rivals back when they were in NASL, and their hatred made the transition to MLS seamlessly.