Despite some of the more odd pairings for MLS Rivalry Weekend/Day (you can just taste the hatred between the Union and Revs!) the attempt by MLS and its TV partners to drive attention and viewers on a crowded sports weekend by putting so many hated teams on the pitch over two days led to some interesting matches. While we wait to see if the marketing moved the dial, the schedule did put on the same day two of the best, most high-profile rivalries in MLS. The first is one that has existed since the inception of the league and the odd results, colorful participants, and high-stake outcomes have guided MLS to its current iteration. The second rivalry has existed longer but mainly outside the league, so its passion and colorful nature naturally draws casual viewers to the TV. These two rivalries bracketed #RivalryDay.
And the results could not have been more different.
New York hosted DC United to kick off the day and if the sides of the field hadn’t switched at halftime, the side the visitors had to defend would be completely dirt. Despite bringing back Dwayne De Rosario from suspension, DC posed very little threat on offense until late in the match. Instead, it was all New York, as the Red Bulls dominated possession and shots.
Skipping to the end of the match, it was almost former DCU defender Brandon Barklage that finally broke through for the home team. Receiving a header off a corner kick in second half stoppage time, Backlage’s deflected point blank shot seemingly was destined for the back of the net – except Bill Hamid’s quick reflexes palmed the ball away. But had it crossed the line? Fans of goal-line technology will have another talking point as no angle NBC provided was conclusive but by the angle of Hamid’s hand the ball did look like it had crossed the plain.
DC United was saved yesterday by Hamid and the post. Two great chances by New York inexplicably hit the post to deny New York goals, while Hamid also added to his highlight reel with some incredibly athletic saves, including maybe the best of the night in the 67th minute to deny Steele. Winless and kept scoreless at home, New York will feel aggrieved but their deficiencies were on display yesterday. There were no change-of-pace players on the bench that could contribute late on, and even if New York had scored one of their oh-so-close chances, the amount of space and possession conceded by DC should have led to multiple goals.
The viewing audience was treated to a dry draw, where the casual sports fan were probably turned off by the lack of goals and one-sided play. The saving grace was a loud cheering section that added a nice soundtrack to the game. However, it was dwarfed by what those same fans would have seen if they would have tuned into the night match on NBC Sports Network, as Portland clawed back to draw Seattle 1-1.
The narrative for most of this game was Seattle overcoming Portland’s better play in the midfield to grab an early lead and look to coast to a lead in the ©ascadia Cup. Eddie Johnson received a perfect pass from an in-form Steve Zakuani in the 13th minute and finished perfectly to stake the home team to an early lead. For the remainder of the first half and most of the second, fans and TV audiences were treated to a back and forth game where, unlike NY v. DC, both sides of supporters felt their team could pull out a result.
Sigi Schmid amped the crowd in the 70th minute by bringing on new signing Obafemi Martins, who had just arrived in Seattle a little over 24 hours prior. Martins looked as rusty as to be expected, making a few good runs but not entirely clicking with his teammates. This was no where more apparent than a few minutes after his introduction then when he streaked down the right and mistimed a pass to Eddie Johnson that would have sealed the game.
It would be another sub that would have the more memorable day however. Rodney Wallace late in the second half beat a ball-watching Jhon Kennery Hurtado on a pass from his defense to head the ball home and to send Portland away with a point. Unlike the first game of the day, the last one was full of drama, back-to-back action that can be expected from rivals. I guess #RivalryDay did have it all.