(Published in The Philly Soccer Page on Oct. 18, 2011.)
One game. Everything on the line.
This is the stuff that rivalries are made of.
Philadelphia Union vs. the New York Red Bulls. On national TV. It’s so on.
If Philadelphia wins, the Red Bulls go home for a long winter. Their disastrous season is over. The Union could win the Eastern Conference and home field advantage if they make it to the conference finals.
If New York wins, they can salvage a lost season. All things are largely equal come playoff time. They can erase the mess that came before. And Philadelphia loses home field advantage.
Yeah, this is what makes real rivalries.
Big games. Something at stake. Something to fight for.
Geographic proximity. Age-old angst between communities.
We don’t need some silly copied name like the SuperClasico. We don’t need meaningless trophies like the Trillium Cup. And we don’t need artificial hype from the league office.
In the northeast, nobody has to teach us what rivalries are. We have the NFC East.
We have decades of nastiness on the playing fields of four other sports. Eagles-Giants. Flyers-Rangers. Phillies-Mets. (Sixers-Knicks hasn’t mattered in decades, sadly.)
I knew a guy in high school who wore a Flyers jersey to a Rangers game and sat in the Blue Section at Madison Square Garden. He almost left on a stretcher.
I can still remember the day Randall Cunningham put a bullet in the chest of my Giants in a Monday night game. (First highlight on the video below. Best NFL play I ever saw. Mike Vick is a pale shadow of Randall.)
Now we have Union-Red Bulls. And it actually means something.
Finally, a good reason to hate the Red Bulls
New York has a guy you should hate, in Rafa Marquez. Heck, he’s even a guy they should hate. He’s like Carlos Ruiz on crack and jihad. The Red Bulls should’ve had the best team in the league this season. Instead, their lack of a goalie and Marquez’s lack of a heart sabotaged the club, shredded the confidence of top U.S. national team prospect Tim Ream, and should land Marquez on the bench in this big game and out of MLS after this season. If it doesn’t, it gives another good reason to hate the Red Bulls: They don’t have the guts to play their best players, a title to which Marquez has no claim.
We’ve come up with fun insults for the Red Bulls, coining the Pink Cows and Energy Drinks nicknames that have become popular. But even that was somewhat lacking. We had no reason to hate the Red Bulls. They were a pathetic excuse for a franchise as the MetroStars, and they never did a thing worth being hated for, other than renaming themselves after an energy drink. But so what? Red Bull built a soccer cathedral. They can call the team “Bob” if they want (though “Cosmos” would be better). They earned it.
If the Union win, Red Bulls fans should hate them. A second-year expansion franchise will have curb-stomped the Red Bulls into irrelevance till March.
If the Red Bulls win, Philly fans have one more tick to feed the inferiority complex that, until the Phillies’ World Series win, had infected fans of every sport in the city. It would probably destroy every Union fan’s confidence going into the playoffs. Admit it. You know it’s true. I’ve watched you guys for years. It’s pathological. And for feeding your neurosis, you should hate the Red Bulls.
A draw would be like kissing your sister. (And no, not the hot one who doesn’t really count because she’s a stepsister you only met twice, or your name is Jaime Lannister.) A tie means each team will need help from others, and considering Thursday’s game comes before the other affected teams (Kansas City, DC United, etc.) finish their seasons, they can’t play for one.
So Union and Red Bulls? Don’t kiss your sister. Try to score goals. If you play for a draw, you deserve what South Africa got.
The only thing that would make this better is if one team’s best player had to miss the game because he did something stupid to get suspended.
Yeah, this is going to be fun.