Club football is known for its rivalries. The English Premier League has several passion-filled derbies–Liverpool vs. Everton and Manchester United vs. Manchester City, to name just two. In Scotland, Celtic and Rangers battle for Old Firm supremacy. In addition to derbies, La Liga has El Classico, in which heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona duke it out several times each season. Shalke and Borussia Dortmund tussle for Ruhr region bragging rights in Bundesliga’s Rivierderby. Club football legend Eric Cantona believes the grandaddy of them all is played in Greece, where Panathinaikos and Olympiacos wage war in the Derby of the Eternal Enemies.
Of course, the South American leagues have many hard-fought club rivalries too, and I could go on to list a number of them, but I’d like to keep this to under eight hundred words and I really should cut to el chase-ico here.
Major League Soccer has done a nice job in creating a league that has the feel of those in the more football-mad (or daft, for you U.K. punters) countries around the world. It has embraced several traditional club names like D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, and Real Salt Lake. Over half of the clubs have built soccer-specific stadiums. Every team has a scarf for its fans to wear and wave on game day. The league has even done its part to encourage rivalries by sanctioning and promoting a number of regular-season Cups.
The San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders F.C. compete throughout the season for what is known as the Heritage Cup, so titled because the two participating teams have the same names as their predecessors–who both played in the North American Soccer League in the ’70s and early ’80s.
MLS’s Texas Derby is fiercely contested by the Houston Dynamo and F.C. Dallas, two cities with an historic sports rivalry. The winner of that derby is awarded El Capitan–a trophy, but also a replica of an 18th century mountain howitzer cannon. You don’t mess with Texas.
This brings me to the Toronto F.C. match that took place early Saturday evening. TFC plays in its own Cup around which a rivalry has been developing. The Trillium Cup is contested by TFC and the Columbus Crew. It’s named after the Trillium flower, which is the flower of both TFC’s home province of Ontario and the Columbus Crew’s home state of Ohio.
The Trillium Cup is a three-game series that takes place over the course of the MLS regular season. The team that acquires the most points in the three games is awarded the trophy. The first tiebreaker is the away-goal rule enforced in many football Cup Championships around the world. The second tiebreaker is goal differential.
Although the Trillum Cup has been fairly competitive throughout its eight-year existence, Columbus has won it seven times and TFC only once.
This installment of the Cup looked to be more promising for TFC though, given that they spent in excess of $100 million in the off-season to revamp their roster. Heck, they acquired rising star Michael Bradley from AS Roma and already-certified Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur. At just 31 years of age, Defoe is the fifth highest scorer in the history of the English Premier League. That’s “a bloody big deal.”
We can’t say yet if Defoe will be TFC’s best player this season, but he has scored three goals in just three games for TFC so far.
Unfortunately, going into Saturday’s game–the first leg of the Trillium Cup–TFC were rather banged up. They were missing Captain Steven Caldwell, fellow back Doneil Henry, and midfielder Jonathan Osorio, and Jermain Defoe was sidelined with a thigh injury. Given that, and the fact that TFC were the away side, it seemed Columbus would almost certainly have the upper hand.
TFC though, showed tremendous resilience and poise. They were stingy at the back and got great performances from the likes of midfielder Michael Bradley and rookie defenceman Nick Hagglund in a stunning 2 – 0 victory.
TFC took the first leg of the Trillium Cup with style, and if they’re healthy for the next two legs–on May 31st in Toronto and August 9th back in Columbus–I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t expect a TFC sweep this year. (As a Toronto citizen, I’m biased towards the Reds.) Bring your brooms out to the Toronto sports bars August 9th, TFC fans. That’s right, I tossed objectivity out the window at about the 88-minute mark of this article.
(photos credited to TorontoFC.com and wikipedia.org )