It’s Rivalry Week in MLS as the Fire head to face Sporting KC Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm CT on NBC Sports Network.
Along with the Wizards performing a magic spell on themselves to becoming Sporting KC ahead of the 2011 season, the club also developed its own rivalry with the Fire, much to the chagrin of some fans here in Chicago.
A sub sandwich promotion along with some clever gimmicks made games against the Fire important to the Sporting fan base. As this happened, those of us in Chicago might have looked on with some bewilderment, given the nature of the rivalries the club has had against New England, Columbus, FC Dallas and D.C. United.
WATCH: Fire 2, Sporting 1 (5/12/2013)
In the past, it’s even felt it fair to lament the fact that there was little organic about a front office galvanizing their supporters against a particular team without much having happened on the field.
All that said, obvious changes have come about since the Wizards became Sporting, most notably, the games have been really good and supporters from both sides have been engaged in the matches.
A few points about why Fire/Sporting matches have developed the hint of a rivalry:
* While the Fire hold a 3-1-1 record since Sporting’s re-brand, every game has been a close, intense affair. Last September’s loss in KC was the only game not decided by a single goal or less and that’s only because Graham Zusi scored on the final kick of the ball as the Fire pushed forward for an equalizer.
* In advance of that game, we kicked up some dust with the Sporting KC front office and while we’d never want to take credit for raising the issue, the club did change its policy on flags for all away supporters.
* In four of the last five matches, at least one player from either side was sent off. Sporting KC actually saw players red carded in three consecutive matches while both Gonzalo Segares and Frank Klopas were dismissed from last September's match.
* In comparison, none of the Fire’s last five matches against any MLS opponent have provided quite as much drama as those against KC.
* Peter Vermes looks especially upset and does even more sideline arm flapping when Sporting plays the Fire.
* There will be approximately 200 Fire supporters in attendance at Saturday’s game. In the last year, only the 600 that attended the FireHouse East invasion of Columbus in May 2012 can beat that amount of away support.
* Some folks in Section 8 Chicago actually refer to Sporting KC as “Little Brother”. Being a Michigan man myself, this is how we speak of in-state rivals Michigan State.
* Perhaps the reason they refer to KC as “Little Brother” is because the Fire hold a 23-11-9 all-time regular season advantage over the Wizards/Sporting franchise.
* Even though Kansas City is still a nine-hour bus ride away, it’s still the second closest team geographically to Chicago (factor in that Canadian border crossing and you'll know what I mean).
* Klopas and Vermes were roommates with the U.S. Men’s National Team. You don’t think they have stories?
* Sporting loves to point out that three of their four domestic titles came as they denied the Fire trophies with the 2000 MLS Supporters Shield and MLS Cup and 2004 U.S. Open Cup (so there’s that).
WATCH: Fire 1, Sporting 0 (6/29/2013)
* Their fourth title came just last year as they defeated Seattle Sounders FC to take their second U.S. Open Cup title. Close to nipping at the heels of the Fire in that category.
* It’s just as much fun to point out to them that the Fire handed the Wizards what is tied for the most lob-sided defeat in MLS history, a 7-0 spanking in the July Fourth Massacre of 2001. It was also an away game…
* Lets also not forget the fact that the Fire still have six trophies in two less years of existence.
* The “Wizards, Come Out to Play” chant is even more fun now that they’re Sporting. See also, “You’ll Always be the Wizards”.
While I wouldn’t consider Sporting the club’s top rival, I would implore Fire supporters to take a deeper look back at the recent past on and off the field before making that judgment.
Whether it’s been hard play, verbal jousts between fan bases (and perhaps coaches) or just entertaining games to watch, there’s something there now.