What would sports be without rivalries? Boring. Plain and simple. Rivalries are formed between teams who despise each other. Sure Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid would be a good game without a rivalry - but the passion and hatred between the two teams creates an atmosphere unlike any other game. In full disclosure, I have not attended the Madrid derby. I can say, however, that I have been to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas many times to watch my Texas Longhorns face off against our most hated rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. [#ousucks] It's an amazing sight to see; fans yelling at other fans, players jabbing at their opponent...it's emotional. It's emotionally draining whether you win or lose. [Of course you feel better after a victory]
It's very difficult, however, if not impossible, to create rivalries out of thin air. What does it really mean to the players & fans if you just slap the would "rivalry" on the game, or give a trophy to start a "rivalry"?
Maybe they've met in the postseason many times with championship status on the line. Maybe there are snide remarks or foul language exchanged between coaches or players..or both! Most passionate rivalries also stem from the geographical proximity to other teams. [see the Cascadia Cup] Some of the fiercest rivalries even happen within the same city! [see the Edinburgh derby & the North London derby]
Here is the reason I ranted about rivalries. Yesterday, FC Edmonton announced that the July 5th game versus the Scorpions would be the inaugural "Wood Buffalo Cup", its name coming from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo where the game will be played. The game will have some significance both locally & for the North American continent. The Wood Buffalo Cup "will be the first professional soccer match in Fort McMurray's history" and "will be the northern-most professional soccer match to be held in North America." That's pretty cool. [pun intended] I asked if this would be a trophy that would be played against different opponents each year or not, but it seems that those details are still being discussed.
I think it's a step in the right direction in terms of creating interest in matches in the NASL, but this potential "rivalry" lacks what I think is necessary to have a true rivalry. Geographical proximity? Not a chance. Edmonton and San Antonio are about 2,202 miles away from each other. Is there history of post-season encounters or regular season jabbing or smack talk? Not that I know of... The all-time head-to-head series is 5-3-3 in favor of San Antonio.
I'm not writing this to bash FC Edmonton or San Antonio. I'm writing this because as much as rivalries make sports that much more entertaining, I have doubts as to the effectiveness of them when one is forced upon the fans & players.
Trust me, I do want to bring home the Wood Buffalo Cup to San Antonio. It's hardware to add to our trophy case, and who wouldn't want to take the inaugural cup from the hosts? Only time will tell whether this becomes an annual cup for only FC Edmonton or both FC Edmonton and San Antonio. Maybe since there is a trophy on the line the players might play that much harder? Could that be the spark that ignites the rivalry?
Soccer On -ASC
2015 is the second year in a row that the NASL will utilize The Championship, the 4 team post season tournament that culminates with the Soccer Bowl. The winners of the Spring & Fall seasons get an automatic berth in the competition. The next two teams with the highest point totals in the combined standings will also complete the field. In 2013 only the winners of the Spring & Fall would meet for the Soccer Bowl. In its first year, 2014, the split season made sense with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil taking place in the summer, right in the middle of the NASL season. It doesn't make sense anymore.
My biggest beef with this format is that the winner of the Spring season has no motivation to play well in the Fall and could realistically end up near the bottom of the table and still play for the Soccer Bowl. This occurred in 2013; Atlanta won the Spring but floundered in the Fall, just 6 points from last place, yet still played for the Soccer Bowl - and unsurprisingly lost to the Cosmos. [thats for another post]
Even with the Women's World Cup (WWC) being hosted in Canada this year, it could have been realistic to play a one table season by having FC Edmonton & Ottowa Fury play some away games if their home stadiums were to be used for the WWC.
In the current format, it does give teams the opportunity to acquire more hardware during the season as there would be champions of each season, the winner of the Woosnam Cup (awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the season), and of course the winner of the Soccer Bowl. The break during the summer does also allow for teams to play international friendlies, which I do enjoy. I love seeing my team go against new competition.
I would advocate though for the single table season that would still end with The Championship to determine our champion. I believe that would give even more legitimacy and respect towards the league. Because the league is still very much in its infancy, it is important that it takes the necessary steps in order to become relevant in the North American & U.S. landscape.
Soccer On -ASC
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