Everyone loves a derby match. Perhaps it is because there are bragging rights at stake or perhaps it is because there is a likelihood that you may know someone who supports the opposition.
No matter the case the match always feels different than the other fixtures on the calendar even if the quality on the pitch doesn’t always deliver.
What makes these derbies so exciting is that they more often than not organic. They come from a boiling point, a certain event or string of events that stoke the fire of supporters. Sometimes it is political, other times it is based off of religion or social economic background, other times it is just rough play on the pitch. But there is almost always a certain point of contention that both sides can point to why they don’t like each other.
Here is one way not to make a derby: by having a league official impose it.
More from Playing for 90
- Alexia Putellas reaches 400 games with Barcelona
- Everything you need to know ahead of the 250th ‘Super Clásico’
- Barcelona put five past Real Betis
- Manchester City suffer but come away with win over West Ham
- Baffling Liga MX ruling strips Puebla of a hard-earned victory
Earlier this month DC United and the Philadelphia Union sent out polls on Twitter to ask their supporters to come up with a name for their derby. The interesting thing about this is most supporters on both sides didn’t realize that they had a derby.
Now on the surface this does make some level of sense. The two teams are only a two and a half hour drive (three and a half if you are trying to go to Friday’s match at PPL Park. I-95 is a hell of a road to drive in traffic) and Philadelphia and D.C., in a general sports sense, do not get along. Those that watched the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals playoff series from earlier this month can regale with stories of intense matches and situations in the stands.
While all of that is well and good none of it matters when making a derby match. Soccer supporters do not care about distance and for the most part do not care about what is happening in other sports (it can help, but is not necessary). What they care about is the history between the two teams on the pitch.
Let’s think about this in another way: What are the big moments in the five years of matches between DC United and the Philadelphia Union that warrant calling this a rivalry? What specific matches have helped foster this derby? Are there any?
More from DC United
- So D.C. United have a stadium. What’s next?
- Three players to keep an eye on for D.C. United this preseason
- Will D.C. United’s offseason strategy pay off?
- What can D.C. United expect from Acosta in year two?
- Should he stay or should he go: D.C. United/USMNT’s Bill Hamid
Going back to when the Union were founded there is scant evidence of a derby. One could make the argument that due to their proximity and early success that some Union supporters started out as DC United supporters could be a reason for a derby (it’s a stretch). Last season’s fixtures which saw the Union pull out one late victory and United come from behind to win two matches as signs that matches are getting more cagey.
But if there is a derby it isn’t there yet. There isn’t a specific point of contention between the two sides that can make the claim that this is a rivalry.
It also doesn’t help when Major League Soccer wants to help stoke the rivalry. Although one can empathize with the teams and the leagues in wanting to create these rivalries ($) it is not something that can be done in corporate offices. The relationship between teams and supporters groups is so bad right now across the league that any attempts to create rivalries may cause further issues.
Also from a DC United perspective it feels as if the league is trying to shift United’s primary rivals from the New York Red Bulls to the Union. It feels a bit odd, almost a declaration by the team and the league that the team cannot support multiple rivalries.
In the end the league may not like to hear it but it needs to let this rivalry build naturally. Given the proximity and the history between these two cities they are right in that a rivalry may happen. But it needs to happen on its own accord and not through the invisible hand of MLS marketing.
What is interesting is that the reason for a rivalry may be right under their nose in Chris Pontius. Pontius, a fan favorite of United supporters for six years, was unceremoniously traded to the Union in the offseason. Given that the Union seem to have finally turned things around in this 2016 campaign and that Pontius has also looked particularly sharp (three goals in seven matches) one could see him looking to play the spoiler against his old club.
Will Pontius prove to be the spark that lights the fire in this rivarly? Time will tell. But what is definitely known is that mandating a rivalry is no way to get the supporters excited about a match.