Trust me, I’m well aware that this weekend’s marquee matchup in Major League Soccer is the Cascadia Cup clash between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers (Sunday 9:30 pm ET) at CenturyLink Field.
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While we give credit to the Seattle vs. Portland feud as one of MLS’s very best — if not the best — rivalries, there’s quite the deep hatred brewing between another pair of MLS teams, this time in “flyover country,” and it reared its ugly head again on Thursday, for no real apparent reason.
Speaking to the media ahead of Sporting Kansas City’s meeting with the Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET), another of Sporting KC’s recent rivals in MLS Cup Playoffs gone by, Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber was asked, “What’s the team that stands out to you that causes you to say to yourself, ‘I hate those guys,'” with the assumed intention of garnering a half-interesting quote about the Dynamo.
But Feilhaber quickly diverted attention away from Saturday’s opponent and took aim at the club’s other, and his own personal favorite, rival, Real Salt Lake.
Feilhaber, from MLSsoccer.com:
“I’ve never liked Salt Lake. I think they’re…yeah, I don’t like them. I like playing against them. I like beating them, even though we haven’t been able to the last two years, but this year, we get to play them a couple more times.
“Salt Lake, I don’t know if it’s the game that I look forward to the most, but it’s the team that, like you said, I hate the most, I guess.”
Sure, the two teams met in that epic 2013 MLS Cup final, which required 10 rounds of penalty kicks to crown a champion, but the beef between Sporting and RSL is an animosity that goes back much further than that. Further than even Feilhaber’s time in Kansas City.
In 2011, a closed-door preseason game between the two teams was cut short after a series of hard tackles reportedly led to an all-out brawl between the two sides. More bad blood ensued later that season when Roger Espinoza was sent off for a hard tackle from behind on RSL captain Kyle Beckerman during a regular season meeting at Sporting Park.
In 2013, Feilhaber’s first season in Kansas City, then-RSL defender Chris Wingert leveled then-SKC winger Kei Kamara with a vicious shoulder to the head just six seconds into their league game at Rio Tinto Stadium. Later that year came the MLS Cup instant-classic.
2014’s lone matchup between SKC and RSL, just as their first meeting of 2015 two weeks ago, was an ugly, physical 0-0 draw played at Sporting Park. On the back of that, Feilhaber already had their next two encounters — June 21 and July 24 — on his mind and was more than happy to explain exactly from where his distaste for RSL comes.
“I just don’t like them. I’ll leave it at that.”
“Some individuals, I don’t hate. Some guys on the team, I like. But I guess, as a whole, I don’t like them too much.”
“I just think they’re…snobby, almost. They think they’re something special, when they’re not. So, that’s pretty much it.”
Living in Kansas City myself, I will assure anyone out there that everything in the above quotes conveys precisely the feelings that every SKC fan harbors for RSL.
This is a good feud, a strong feud, a real feud born out of high-quality, competitive play on the field; not from the marketing arm of a team or the league trying to drive interest in their product. Best of all, it looks set to burn white-hot for some time to come.
Get ready, June 21 is only 59 days away.