A Guide to the Fiercest Rivalries in MLS

A Guide to the Fiercest Rivalries in MLS

Across the globe, plentiful, prominent rivalries receive mass attention. They come in the form of the Old Firm between Rangers and Celtic in Scotland, the Intercontinental Derby, which sees Turkish sides Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray square off, the El Clasico where Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona go head-to-head, similarly in Argentina between River Plate and Boca Juniors which is labeled as the Superclasico, as well as a host of English fixtures in the top flight with Manchester United and Liverpool encounters historically producing some of the greatest games of all-time.

With those key clashes being stated, why aren’t American or Canadian rivalries spoken of? This guide will give you an insight into the teams that aren’t regularly in conversation when discussing derby fixtures worldwide.


Major League Soccer is on an upward trajectory, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Riqui Puig and Christian Benteke setting the performance standards in the league as of now. They have followed in the footsteps of pastime greats such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Robbie Keane, Sebastian Giovinco and Landon Donovan. Elite players and well-renowned names add an extra incentive to fixtures, extra intensity, passion, and a drive for fans to become more engaged and invested in the game of soccer. Multiple matched betting opportunities are available to explore at different sportsbooks as a result of this.

Only 10 teams represented the league when play began in 1996. Since 2015, MLS has welcomed an additional 11 teams, boosting the number of clubs to 29. Fourteen teams compete in the Western Conference, and 15 teams compete in the Eastern Conference; San Diego FC will become the league’s 30th team and debut in 2025.

For some, organic rivalries have been hard to come by, especially for expansion clubs. However, that doesn’t apply to all expansion clubs. Take LAFC and FC Cincinnati, for example, whose respective existence came into play in 2018 and 2019, and they are now a huge part of some of the fiercest derbies in MLS history. For other clubs, their time in MLS dates back a little further than a decade, perhaps, but their histories run much deeper.  

Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers 

A rivalry bred in the Pacific Northwest, a feud kickstarted more than a century ago and still influencing behavioral manners towards different moments to the present day. The rivalry between these two soccer outfits wasn’t established in MLS; it dates back to May 2, 1975, when they first clashed in the North American Soccer League. They have now faced off on 139 occasions, spanning over five leagues and several generations of players and fans. Seattle won 66 of those fixtures, while Portland 56, and 17 draws took place, too.

The rivalry isn’t just felt on the pitch but in the stands, too; a competitive tifo display is always in full force between both fanbases. Ultimately, MLS benefits on all fronts from the rich history and enthusiasm embedded into fixtures from both clubs, and in time, the context of the rivalry, scenes from fixtures, and quality on display will resonate with soccer fans worldwide.

LA Galaxy vs LAFC

When LAFC entered the league in 2018, there was speculation about whether they would be a rival to LA Galaxy from numerous different voices. Nobody likes a forced rivalry. However, there is substance to support it between both clubs.

LA Galaxy have competed in MLS for over two decades, paving the way and leading by example to evidence what is possible for other aspiring teams in the league. The people of LA now have two established teams in the region; it’s a battle in their hearts and minds. LAFC, in a sense, is indebted to the successes and failures over the years of Galaxy, as they have a clear model of what and what not to do. It can now be said that LAFC has overtaken Galaxy in numerous ways, and the pressure is on Galaxy to rise once again.

The dubbed El Trafico has occurred 22 times in six years, with LA Galaxy narrowly pipping their neighbors with nine wins to LAFC’s eight and five games ending in a draw. However, in five out of six campaigns, LAFC have finished ahead of LA Galaxy in the Western Conference.

Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Rossi and Riqui Puig are all high-profile names that have left their mark and elevated the fixture internationally.

Toronto FC vs CF Montreal 

Emotions run high in this tie, and many factors hold a significant influence. Historically, both cities have been economic rivals; there are culture clashes between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Canada and more than a century-old hockey rivalry exists between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

This surrounding hostility has transferred to both MLS teams and has been present since the NASL era. The Eastern Conference finals in 2016 was a landmark event that most definitely cemented the soccer rivalry between both clubs. The bragging rights of the clash would be recognised as the first Canadian team to reach the MLS Cup final, making it an occasion to go out all-out. Toronto were able to celebrate that in dramatic fashion, having clawed back from a 3-0 deficit after 53 minutes in the first leg to lose just by a one-goal margin and then registering a 5-2 victory in the second leg after extra time.

Columbus Crew vs FC Cincinnati 

Despite not being as ferocious as the Toronto vs CF Montreal rivalry or as patronage of the Pacific Northwest derby, fans have labeled this fixture as “Hell is Real”. It ties the cities together uniquely, steering away from a title such as “Ohio Derby”. “Hell is Real” is in reference to a sign which features on Interstate 71, a highway connecting Columbus to Cincinnati in Ohio. The close geographic proximity and passionate support from both fanbases have developed an intense competitive nature between the two clubs.

FC Cincinnati joined MLS in 2019, but the two sides had squared off against one another before in the U.S. Open Cup. Before this, in 2017, Columbus Crew faced a significant threat of relocation as Anthony Precourt announced his intentions to move the club to Austin, Texas, if a new stadium could not be secured in downtown Columbus. A “Save the Crew” movement arose from this and is now often cited as a landmark moment in American sports showcasing the power of fan activism and community support, where mutual respect was earned all-round as rival teams backed Columbus Crew vocally with the “Art Modell Law” being invoked.