The Most Intense Rivalries in MLS: Passion, Pride, and Regional Bragging Rights


Major League Soccer has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, with passionate fans, talented players, and fierce competition driving the league’s evolution. One of the most captivating aspects of any soccer league is the rivalries that emerge, fueled by history, geography, and pure competitive spirit. In MLS, these rivalries have transformed ordinary matches into extraordinary, emotionally-charged battles for supremacy. In this article, we delve into the top 10 rivalries in Major League Soccer that have captivated fans and elevated the beautiful game. From coast to coast, these heated contests embody the passion, pride, and regional bragging rights that make soccer in North America an exhilarating experience.

1. The Epic Struggle for Pacific Northwest Supremacy

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers boast the most intense rivalry in Major League Soccer, known as the Battle of Cascadia. The Pacific Northwest clubs have been fierce rivals since their NASL days in 1975, and the animosity has only grown over the years. The matchday atmosphere is often compared to English Premier League derbies, with both sets of fans offering hostile receptions to the opposing team. This longstanding rivalry is a testament to the passion and pride of soccer in the United States.

2. City of Angels Showdown: The Freeway Face-Off

The El Tráfico derby features the two Los Angeles-based clubs, LA Galaxy and LAFC. Separated by just 12 miles, the derby name is a playful nod to the city’s infamous traffic. This crosstown rivalry has quickly become one of the most heated in MLS, with memorable moments such as the first-ever El Tráfico in 2018, when Zlatan Ibrahimović scored a stunning goal to lead the Galaxy to a 4-3 comeback win over LAFC. The intense competition between these two clubs showcases the growing excitement and interest in soccer in Southern California.

3. East Coast Powerhouses: The Atlantic Cup Confrontation

The Atlantic Cup is fought between DC United and New York Red Bulls, two of the oldest and most storied franchises in MLS. Given the longstanding rivalries between Washington and New York in other sports, it’s no surprise that this derby has become one of the fiercest in the league. The rivalry has been marked by memorable moments like Alecko Eskandarian’s goal celebration in 2006, when he took a sip of a Red Bull energy drink before spitting it out. The Atlantic Cup showcases the passion and commitment of the clubs’ large and dedicated supporter groups.

4. A Canadian Feud: The Great Northern Clash

The Canadian Classique, also known as the Two Solitudes Derby or the 401 Derby, is a heated rivalry between Toronto FC and CF Montreal. As the two largest cities in Canada, the clubs have a long history of competing against each other in various sports, and their MLS rivalry is no exception. The Canadian Classique highlights the growing influence of soccer in the country and adds an extra layer of excitement for fans of both clubs.

5. North vs. South: The Golden State Grudge Match

The California Clásico features a North vs. South California battle between the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. This historic rivalry is marked by intense fan interactions, with tifos, chants, and a heavy security presence separating the two groups during matches. The Earthquakes even move their home games against the Galaxy to Stanford Stadium to accommodate the larger crowds. The California Clásico showcases the deep-rooted passion for soccer in the Golden State.

6. Battle of the Big Apple: The Hudson Tussle

The Hudson River Derby is contested between New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, named after the river that runs through the city. The 2016 match, which ended in a 7-0 victory for the Red Bulls and became known as “The Red Wedding,” helped set the tone for this intense rivalry. The Hudson River Derby highlights the growing interest in soccer in the nation’s largest city, with both clubs aiming to claim bragging rights as the top team in New York.

7. Lone Star State Rivalry: The Texan Showdown

The Texas Derby, featuring FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo, has been a hard-fought rivalry since 2006. The two clubs battle for the unique El Capitán trophy, an 18th-century mountain howitzer cannon replica. The Texas Derby showcases the competitive spirit of soccer in the Lone Star State, with both teams eager to claim the title of the best in Texas.

8. The Peaks of Passion: The Mountain Cup

The Rocky Mountain Cup is a battle between Mountain West giants Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids. Established in 2005, the rivalry has seen Real Salt Lake dominate Colorado for the most part. The most heated game occurred in 2006, when Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni taunted Salt Lake fans after a victory, sparking even more intensity between the two clubs. The Rocky Mountain Cup is a testament to the passion and pride in the Mountain West region.

9. The Ohio Duel: From Highway to Pitch

The Hell is Real Derby, also known as the Ohio Derby, is one of the newest rivalries in MLS, pitting FC Cincinnati against Columbus Crew SC. The rivalry began when FC Cincinnati joined the league in 2019 and has quickly become one of the most intense in MLS. The name “Hell is Real” originates from a sign on Interstate 71, which runs between the two cities, and while it was intended as a religious message, it has come to symbolize the fiery nature of this rivalry.

10. A Tale of Two Cities: The Precourt Saga

The Precourt Derby showcases the rivalry between Austin FC and Columbus Crew SC, born out of a controversial attempt to relocate the Crew to Austin in 2017 by then-owner Anthony Precourt. Columbus fans fought to keep their team, and a local ownership group ultimately bought Precourt out in 2019, saving the Crew. The league then allowed Precourt to purchase an expansion franchise, which became Austin FC. The Precourt Derby serves as a reminder of the passion and dedication of Columbus Crew fans who fought to keep their team.

These ten rivalries highlight the growing excitement, passion, and pride of soccer in the United States and Canada, as well as the regional bragging rights that come with each victory. As MLS continues to expand and attract new fans, these rivalries will only grow in intensity, further solidifying the league’s status as one of the best in the world.