Yeah, it might not be on TV in the metro area -- getting bumped for the St. Patrick's Day parade -- and it might not have the visual impact of the Cascadia Cup, but D.C. United-New York Red Bulls is the best rivalry in the league.
Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers fans might disagree. So might Toronto FC and Montreal Impact fans, after all, Toronto is bringing league-record away support to Quebec this weekend. The San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy might have an argument, too. But few rivalries, or "rivalries" in the case of Chicago Fire-Sporting Kansas City, have been as memorable or influential as New York-D.C.
The moments were well chronicled this week on MLSsoccer.com. You've got the 1996 playoff series (video above). There's Jaime Moreno (really, just as an entity unto himself). There was the rule-bending sub of Eddie Gaven by Bob Bradley, who later scored the game-winning goal. Then, there are other (unmentioned by the league's official site) incidents. Bottle rockets at RFK come to mind. Oh, yeah, that hurricane-followed-by-snowstorm that still has United supporters upset (We had to SIT on a BUS, that we didn't even pay for, for SIX WHOLE HOURS, only for the league to CANCEL THE GAME in an area hit by one of the costliest storms ever. INSANE RIGHT?).
But the moments are only part of the equation. Without the Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles and the Empire Supporters Club, you can make an argument that the supporter culture that has become such a marketing boon for the league doesn't exist.
Look at, too, the players who have come worn one, or both, shirts. Both coaches, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen, have played for their teams, Petke for both. Bruce Arena coached both. The aforementioned Moreno played for both, too, although only well for one. Ryan Nelsen played for D.C. and now coaches Toronto FC. John Harkes grew up in Kearny, just up the block from Red Bull Arena and went to high school with Tony Meola. Tab Ramos was from the area, as well, and all three knew each other. Eddie Pope played for both, as did Jeff Agoos, who later served as Red Bulls technical director. Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley all played on the MetroBulls side of the rivalry, too.
Seattle and Portland fans will argue longevity, even though the rivalry wasn't played for stretches and for other stretches wasn't even Sounders-Timbers. Canadians will point to the cultural tension. Californians have their regional differences. But no rivalry is so much like a walk through American soccer history -- and the chapter that establishes American soccer is here to stay -- the way the Atlantic Cup is.