The Philadelphia Union host the New York Red Bulls this Wednesday at 7 PM in U.S. Open Cup play, the latest installment of the Philly-NY rivalry. Or is it?
The word “rivalry” is thrown around pretty freely these days. Multiple leagues have some portion of the schedule which is marketed as time for rivalries at this point, and may or may not match up teams who have a real rivalry or not. What makes up a rivalry though? What defines one? Let’s take a look at some of the most common factors in big rivalries around sports.
Close in proximity: Local or regional rivalries are normally the order of the day. It’s hard to have a rivalry with someone who’s across the country in another conference unless you repeatedly meet to fight for the title. RBNY are absolutely close enough for there to be a rivalry.
Meets frequently: With the unbalanced schedule and with how Open Cup play tries to be as regional as possible, the Union will face the Red Bulls at least eight times in the last two years. This definitely checks the “meets frequently” box. Remember, familiarity breeds contempt.
Most games carry significant consequences for both teams: This is where the rivalry argument falls apart. It’s not a rivalry if one team kicks the other team’s head in over and over. The Red Bulls are 10-6-2 in league matches and Open Cup matches combined vs the Union. The Union have been good one year (2011), okay another year (2013) and pitiful the rest of the time. Both teams have to be good and fight each other for position in the table and the spoils that follow for this to work.
Special moments of vitriol: A side runs the score up. One team knocks the other team out of the playoffs or tournament. A questionable tackle (perhaps injury-causing) leads to calendar-marking. And here we see perhaps the beginnings of a rivalry, as the Red Bulls took last year’s Open Cup seriously (after years of directions from their Austrian owners not to) and got knocked out by a ten-man Union side in penalties after extra time in a wild affair. Enter into evidence too the fight that broke out this pre-season between the two teams, with Ilsinho (who was then on trial) in the thick of it. We aren’t at rivalry status yet, but we could be headed there.
With both sides having quality this year, we could be in for some good soccer, and perhaps a budding rivalry to boot. Both sides have issues, however. The Union have a suddenly leaky defense which has allowed three goals in each of the last two matches. While it’s not surprising that a defense made of a couple rookies, a second-year starter, and an aging left back is experiencing a hiccup, there’s no time in the Open Cup to play a couple matches and find yourself again: it’s win or go home. The Red Bulls meanwhile are having trouble closing out matches, dropping points to Columbus in their most recent fixture on a stoppage time equalizer by Ola Kamara. RBNY is in a brutal stretch of schedule in which they’ll play 11 games in 35 days as well and may be fatigued, as they’re right in the middle of it. Whatever happens could be a hint of how the power struggle that’s to come in the East this year will go.
Possible first XI: Blake; Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; Carroll, Barnetta; Pontius, Alberg, Ilsinho; Herbers
Prediction: much to Jim’s chagrin, I foresee another wide open match. The Union pull it out, though. Union 3, RBNY 2