Five biggest rivalries in MLS

Major League Soccer has been going since 1996. While the franchises might have started with the same ideals to promote the sport in the US, since then fierce rivalries have emerged throughout the country. Below, we run down the biggest MLS rivalries.

Biggest MLS rivalries

Hudson River Derby: New York Red Bulls vs New York City FC

The Hudson River Derby is the name for the fixture contested between the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. While the Red Bulls can claim the pre-existing rivalry game against D.C. United in the Atlantic Cup, this match for the bragging rights of New York supersedes it.

Part of the derby stems from the two franchises wanting to be the face of the city.

However, New York City FC claim they are the only MLS team from New York with the Red Bulls’ stadia located in New Jersey, adding fuel to the fire. Of course, there is the thought that NYCFC fans could all just be defectors from the Red Bulls making for an uneasy feeling among those who stuck with the original team, contributing it one of the fiercest rivalries in MLS.

Canadian Classique: Toronto FC vs CF Montreal

Of all the derbies in MLS, the Canadian Classique is one that pre-dates Major League Soccer. Toronto FC was the first team to play in the American-dominated soccer division, meaning they first met in the Canadian Championship in 2008. For many, Toronto FC was the Canadian team in MLS, having joined in 2007. Therefore, the franchise wasn’t amazingly happy when Vancouver and Montreal joined the party in the 2010s.

Players and supporters have described the match as the personification of the two cities’ rivalry given cultural and historical differences between the two metropolis areas. The 2009 Miracle in Montreal was the origination point as Toronto won 6-1, showcasing that they were in MLS and better for it.

Hell Is Real: Columbus Crew vs FC Cincinnati

Another of the biggest MLS rivalries is the Ohio Derby (Hell is Real) between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati. The name originates from a sign that was put up by a religious cult on Interstate 71 on the stretch road that connects Columbus and Cincinnati that reads ‘HELL IS REAL’, which lent itself to the rivalry name.

Former Columbus Crew manager Caleb Porter described the match as a highlight of the entire season and that the losers feel like they’re in hell. The Columbus Crew hadn’t lost in its five first derby meetings in the league, leading to a fair bit of resentment from the FC Cincinnati supporters. Come 2023 and with FC Cincinnati somehow switching from being a basement team to a MLS Cup contender, the Crew will no doubt be incredibly sore about the whole ordeal.

El Trafico: LA Galaxy vs LAFC

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez. That’s just a few of the greatest MLS players ever, who’ve all played in El Trafico, one of the biggest MLS rivalries. The match has gained notoriety from the very first meeting in 2018. That game was a jamboree of attacking football as Galaxy came from behind to win 4-3 with a Ibrahimovic stoppage-time winner.

Since then Galaxy has continued to lead the rivalry series but LAFC has won the MLS Cup, questioning whether the rivalry record is a true barometer as to who is the better Los Angeles club. However, Galaxy holds some recent success in this marquee fixture as it won the first-ever meeting at the Rose Bowl as over 80,000 spectators saw the original LA team triumph.

Much like the New York derby listed above, with the advent of a new club simply landing in the city, the supporters didn’t simply appear from thin air. It has been pointed out that a lot of LAFC fans used to be Galaxy supporters, allured by a shiny new object.

Cascadia Cup: Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers

This might not just be one of the biggest MLS rivalries but a generally massive US soccer rivalry. The Pacific Northwest was one of the first areas in America to take soccer to its hearts as the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers were playing each other in the NASL in the mid-1970s, long before Major League Soccer arrived.

In many ways, the soccer feud is a nod to the city rivalry from yesteryear where the local governing bodies and workers would compete to attract business to their city. In recent years, with both cities spiking in terms of a hip new culture, it’s now a battle between the cities to attract touring musicians, art exhibitions, and soccer players to their city.

The Cascadia Cup is a supporter-driven rivalry contested between the two teams (and the Vancouver Whitecaps) to see who can be called the best team in the Pacific Northwest.

Both franchises have won the MLS Cup and it’s one of the more competitive rivalries with a 19-17 record (MLS era) in favor of the Portland Timbers. However, the Timbers only started leading the series as recently as 2022. As the teams have become very competitive in both in the league and against one another, fewer players have walked the crooked line between the franchises with the last man to do so being Andrew Weber over 10 years ago, who seldom played after the outrageous transfer.

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