Electronic signboards all over the league have warned us "There Will Be Haters." My reaction is, paraphrasing a different writer from a different context, don't call it a comeback - I've been here for years. There is nothing more powerful in American soccer today than hate - and, of course, its sisters contempt, disdain, fury and the noun form of "despise" which totally escapes me at the moment. Hate is to Major League Soccer what tradition is to baseball - the force that drives it, shapes it, and gives it meaning. Fans hate each other, players hate each other, clubs hate each other, leagues hate each other, and non-fans hate the entire sport. Hate permeates the sport, from people blocks away to entire continents apart - all making a storm of such duration, power and permanence that makes the Great Red Spot look like the Coriolis effect in the sample bottle of a WPSL drug test.
Before Major League Soccer, one would search in vain for evidence that sports fans in Seattle and Columbus were even dimly aware of each other. It took soccer to bring them together in mutual loathing. What other sport, except for perhaps college football, would have made Columbus a citadel for pilgrimage? And what other sport would another city want to take away that status? And, on top of that, what other sport would that city be Seattle, Washington?
The Columbus Crew-Seattle Sounders snarlfest began, as all MLS rivalries do, long before one of the teams took the field. Sigi Schmid had just won the double, and nearly the triple, for the Crew in 2008. The newly promoted Sounders decided that their USL coach just wouldn't do, and hired Schmid away. Schmid and the Sounders have so far won a bunch of Gold Cups since then, and Schmid's successor Robert Warzycha presided over a gentle decline.
And there it might have festered. Sure, Sounders fans have made themselves as universally beloved among existing MLS fans as, well, every other expansion team fans had before them. Marking a debut year with success and smugness dates back at least to 1998 in Chicago, if not 1996 in Washington. But absent any other provocations, the Crew probably wouldn't have launched a thousand ships to rescue fair Helen and humble proud Troy. In fact, Montreal topped expansion team arrogance by holding Brian Ching hostage, but Dynamo-Impact hate has since simmered - if there was any sustained objection to #MLS4MTL in southeast Texas, it escaped my notice.
But then again, Houston and Montreal aren't likely to compete to host the same national team qualifier.
In 2013, Columbus Crew Stadium was scheduled to host Mexico in the Hexagonal - the way it had in the previous three qualifying campaigns. In that same qualifying round, Seattle hosted its first national team qualifier ever. Many Seattle-area fans wondered aloud how nice it would be to host other qualifying matches in the future - maybe even against Mexico. Other Seattle-area fans offered their services to help Columbus-area fans cheer in their upcoming qualifier more effectively. The result was predictable, and hilarious. (Sadly, site upgrades have nuked comments but left my post standing, so you'll have to take my word for it about the screenshots and the input from various fans.)
Columbus ended up hosting its fourth consecutive qualifier win over Mexico by a score of....oh, what was that score - mind's a blank, forget my own head next. And Crew fans forgave and forgot.
Just kidding, of course they didn't. Twitterati were the beneficiaries of Crew fans taking over the hashtag #HateWeek, with Seattle fans responding in kind. If you like a frothy mixture of humor and hate, then it was glorious - even for a Galaxy fan. It's so hard to pick favorites, but this was probably my favorite:
Maybe someday this dies down, like the Brimstone Cup or the Honda Superclasico *HUGE SMIRK*, but maybe not. Even under the best of circumstances, the quality of mercy amongst MLS fans is well-strained. Seattle, however, messed with Dos a Cero. I can easily picture Columbus fans holding that particular grudge beyond forever - and God help us if Seattle ever does wrest that game away.
Hey - did you know MLS has two teams in the New York metro area this year? When was that announced?
In the past, I've brought up the difference between the kind of hate you would like to sustain and nurture, and the kind of hate you want to rip out root and bone. It's more or less the difference between a Rival and an Enemy. (You might have read it in "Astounding Sports Insights," Vol. XXVI.) As one of the few souls who don't find NYCFC completely annoying, I hold out hope that City and Bull can create one of those great New York sports rivalries you, frankly, don't see anymore. These days New York rivalries are between the Broadway team and the Upstart - even when the two teams in question share the same field in New Jersey.
In this case, the Upstart is trying to also become the Broadway team. Let's assume for the moment that NYCFC do manage to build a stadium somewhere in NYC, and assure their permanence. That certainly doesn't mean the New York Reds will wither and die. Twenty years of history isn't dislodged easily, especially from the sort of fans who have survived those particular twenty years. The Red Bulls were never an establishment darling anyway, any more than the Metrostars were. Oh, I'm sure back in 1996 Doug Logan and his associates had visions of the Metrostars becoming the New Cosmos, but that didn't precisely happen. Failure, neglect and exploitation has been the history of the Metro/Bulls, and that has given their fans more than enough - what's the theme of this post again? That's right, hate. Giving them a local target will only make them stronger. I, like millions of others, have many helpful suggestions on how to improve and advance the New York Red Bulls - starting with the name, and the ditching thereof in favor of something much more metropolitan, if you catch my drift.
That's if NYCFC succeeds in any, or even some, of their missions. That is by no means a given.
There are those who answer the question "Red or Blue?" with an ear-splitting "Green!" If the Cosmos were to build a stadium before NYCFC, that would be the seventh or eighth funniest thing in the entire history of the entire god-damned world. If you have been following this story closely, then you have my sympathy. Cosmos fans will tell you Elmont is the most sensible solution imaginable, while others would tend to disagree. (Google failed to tell me what Aubrey Phillips' particular beef with the Cosmos would be; I can't even definitively rule out that this isn't the same Aubrey Phillips who plays for Auburn.)
Like NYCFC (and unlike the Red Bulls), the Cosmos can't remain in their current stadium situation indefinitely. The course of New York soccer will be altered in unknowable ways depending on who wins this particular race - and so far, to be blunt, neither side has inspired a lot of confidence.
While both sides failing is certainly a real possibility, I just don't see both NYCFC and the Cosmos succeeding. New York is probably a better possibility for multiple pro soccer teams than, to pick a couple of examples not remotely at random, Los Angeles or Cincinnati. But two ownership groups capable of building stadiums within city limits would be two very oddly-colored swans indeed. It's one or nothing. And, since this is a process that has already taken years, with no end in sight, I predict confidently that the whole business will generate permanent, colossal, and absolutely glorious levels of hate. May the less worse team win.