This weekend’s MLS rivalry games can give us the joy we all deserve | Andrew Wiebe

    We all deserve joy. Remember joy? Home-run swings in the Bronx. Black hats, white hats and Zlatan half volleys. Orlannnnnnddddoooooooo. Hell in Ohio, of all places. A playoff 18-yard box that’s … not quite 18 yards. Alan Gordon, Shea Salinas and Landon Donovan pinatas. Bill Hamid in a hallway. It’s been a rough year, but they can’t hold us back! C’mon!

    We all deserve rivalry matches. Remember rivalry matches? Marches that stretch city blocks. Stadiums packed with fans, home and away. Color. So much color, swirling in the stands and jumping off acres of green. Homemade canvas, hundreds of gallons of paint and the art of the collective. Legends made. Hearts broken. Logs sawed, cannons fired and spikes hammered. Beers and soccer with friends. Wild celebrations. Stranger hugs. Human contact.

    Man, it’s been a rough year.

    But we’re still here. Still finding joy, however limited, and purpose, however fleeting, in moments that don’t resemble, for the time being anyway, what we once took for granted. We’re still circling the calendar when Cascadia and El Trafico come around. We’re still soccer fans, even if COVID-19 has taken away our precious communion. 

    Yes, the supporters make rivalry matches pop. No, the supporters won’t be there this weekend. It’ll be on the players to show us that these games still matter more. By my very liberal count, we’ve got seven “rivalry” matches from Friday through Sunday. Crack a Heineken with me out of habit. Here’s something that will spark some extra special rivalry joy in every single game.

    Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United

    Aug. 21, 7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada (local TV)

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    I want to see the Nicest Rivalry in MLS become the Pettiest Rivalry in MLS. 

    Give me a Peter Vermes deadpan press conference in which he unironically states nobody believes in Sporting Kansas City and that they’ve always been the true Midwestern MLS underdog. Give me Chase Gasper standing over Graham Zusi after breaking him down with another out-of-the-blue And 1 Mixtape moment. Give me Ozzie Alonso and Roger Espinoza taking turns tripping each other, rolling their eyes when called for the foul and making the universal sign for diving. Give me something like Sporting KC-Real Salt Lake from back in the early-to-mid 2010s!

    Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas (Texas Derby)

    Aug. 21, 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    You know what would spark just a little competitive joy? A Dynamo win. They’ve got just two of those since 2013 against what is, currently, their only in-state rival. Honestly, it may be too late for the Texas Derby as a standalone. Austin FC is coming, and they’ve got a disruptive, sneering villain written all over them. I say let the trolling triangle begin NOW. Why wait for Austin to hit the field? Start banging out trash-talking tweets, Matthew McConaughey. MLS! MLS! MLS!

    Regardless, I’ll take a Paxton Pomykal start, goals from Homegrowns Memo Rodriguez and Ricardo Pepi and … Cobra on the ones and twos. Please, just give us something better than that scoreless draw against Nashville.

    LAFC vs. LA Galaxy (El Trafico)

    Aug. 22, 6 pm ET | FOX, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    No Chicharito, huh? That doesn’t spark joy. So, since this game specializes in the absurd, it’s time to jump the shark yet again. Ethan Zubak, come on downnnnnnn!

    LAFC are going to, inevitably, jump out to a two- or three-goal lead. Carlos Vela is back, his flow is devastating and he’s joysticking the whole game with that left foot. The MLS is Back version of Diego Rossi is here. That midfield is equal parts silk and stick. Bob Bradley’s rocking a slick new jacket, and at halftime it’s going to feel like the Galaxy are already crushed under LAFC’s boot.

    But then, in true El Trafico fashion, everything is turned on its head thanks to a historic game from Zubak, a Homegrown forward who’s scored a ton of goals for Los Dos but hasn’t yet found the back of the net in 137 minutes for the first team. Scrappy rebound finish. Header in a crowd. GOLAZO OUT OF NOTHING! LA GALAXY WIN! ZLATAN WHO?!

    Atlanta vs. Nashville

    Aug. 22, 7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    Let’s just call this the Alex Muyl game. Just imagine, after a glorious week of basking in the glow of an interim manager (Stephen Glass) who will finally let them express themselves in true Tata fashion, Atlanta get taken down by a Nashville team doing their best Darlington Nagbe heat map impression. In case you don’t get that reference, adults who aren’t offended by curse words may click here.

    This time, though, no ordinary David Accam deflection special will do. We need Muyl, fresh off a flight from New York City, to become a Nashville legend at the same time he avenges that Red Bulls conference final loss. He’s shutting down Pity Martinez from his place on the right flank and bagging the winner, then running to the microphones, winking into the camera and dropping an epic, “Atttttlllllannnnnnnntttaaaaaaaa” just for Josef Martinez’s benefit at home.

    Orlando vs. Miami (Florida Derby)

    Aug. 22, 8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    I have but one wish. Break out the makeup, Rodolfo Pizarro. It’s a worthwhile yellow card.

    Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake (Rocky Mountain Cup)

    Aug. 22, 9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    Dead last. That’s where I ranked this rivalry back in May. Hate me if you must, but it’s been a one-sided stinker for the past decade. There were some signs of life in 2019, most notably a crazy Real Salt Lake comeback in stoppage time.

    Joy, for me, is a Giuseppe Rossi brace. Joy, for me, is a Kei Kamara dunk and celebration. Joy, for me, is watching Aaron Herrera be miserable to play against. Joy, for me, is just watching Lalas Abubakar being the happiest man in MLS. Joy, for me, is a Rapids win and a bust-up after the final whistle. Let’s make this a rivalry again.

    Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (Cascadia Cup)

    Aug. 23, 10 pm ET | FS1, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada (local TV)

    The away-goals rule isn’t in effect, so we’re already robbed of seeing the Timbers struggle with basic math. Alas, Clint Dempsey is long retired as well, which will please only the cards in the referee’s pocket. You’re safe, fellas. What will Xavier Arreaga do? Even he doesn’t know!

    I’ve joked a lot in this column, but I just want the game I stay up to watch on Sunday night to be a good soccer game. Leave the rust in Orlando, Sounders. Keep the quality high, Timbers. We’re relying on you to put an exclamation point on the weekend. We all deserve joy.

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