Rivalries are central to Major League Soccer's expansion plans
Major League Soccer's expansion strategy is well-known and new teams are set to appear in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Miami in the near future as the league plugs gaps in its national map.
Along for the ride, and central to the league's current marketing campaign even as we speak, is rivalry. If top-level soccer in brand new arenas is the main attraction, then rivalry is the carnival barker that helps get fans through the door.
Rivalry is key to growing the league specifically because it speaks to passions that exist outside the sport. If MLS can get casual fans interested in soccer because City A really likes to beat City B (and vice-versa), those fans might find reasons to stick around.
Hence, Rivalry Week.
With that notion of in mind, let's take a look at the possible rivalries to come as MLS moves forward on expansion to 24 teams.
(For the purposes of this exercise, we're treating all of the proposed teams, including David Beckham's Miami project, as eventually joining the league.)
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy
This one needs almost no explanation. While the old SuperClasico between the Galaxy and Chivas USA always seemed to be more marketing flash than actual rivalry, a real hatred seemed to infect games between the two sides.
The Goats never had the type of fan base that could raise the clashes to anything more than mildly interesting affairs and the teams never played each other with anything on the line, but there was potential latent in the matchup.
With LAFC coming into the league in 2018, the city of Los Angeles might actually get a chance to deliver on the potential of the SuperClasico, though probably under a different name.
LAFC is already positioning itself as the new cool kids, seeking to relegate the glitziest team in MLS to an odd, second-class status. There's already a sense of rivalry because of the way LAFC is going about building buzz in the city. Phil Anschutz's Galaxy organization is not used to the role into which the new club is trying to cast them and we can already sense a mild sense of annoyance rising up in Carson, California.
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City
Let's call this one the "Southern Classic" just for simplicity's sake and because it has a nice ring to it. Even as Atlanta United ramps up to their launch next year, various factions of their support-in-waiting are trying to goad Orlando City into considering the Georgia team a rival. Whether or not they gain any traction remains to be seen, but at least there's an inkling of something brewing between the two.
As natural rivals go, Orlando is the closest thing Atlanta will have when they enter the league, despite the 450 miles between the two cities. In their effort to make the South the next hotbed of American soccer -- along with the Midwest -- expect MLS to trumpet the Atlanta-Orlando matchup as on with rivalry undercurrents. If and when Miami gets into the fray, we can expect some idea of a three-way rivalry with Beckham's team included as well.
Miami vs. Orlando City
Speaking of Miami, a Florida matchup would be rife for pyrotechnics right out of the gate. Should Miami get a venue plan done and attract good crowds, all of the elements of a classic rivalry would exist from day one including, but not limited to, geographical proximity (250 miles), built-in allegiances from other sports and a clash of fan cultures.
Great rivalries are made throughout years and can't be wished into existence but, as long as there is a basis for dislike, there's reason to think a great rivalry will emerge. Miami and Orlando is a great rivalry in the making.
Minnesota vs. Chicago Fire
This one is all about the Midwest, mostly built on the animosity created through NFL matchups between the cities' two teams during the years. The geographical ties between the Twin Cities and Chicago are there, albeit relatively tenuous; when it takes six hours to drive the 400 miles from one to the other, it's hardly going to foster a large amount of natural disdain.
And yet, Chicago is desperate enough for real rivals that there's at least a chance that something might catch on. At some 350 miles away, Columbus is currently the closest MLS town to Chicago, but the Fire don't have much antagonism for Crew SC. It doesn't help that Chicago is nearly irrelevant in MLS these days; only a revival of the club and some real clashes of note will bring out a rivalry between the two.
In the beginning at least, we should expect Minnesota's fans to travel in significant numbers. That will mitigate the deflating impact of the mileage between the two cities and give Chicago's fans another target for their passion.
Minnesota vs. Sporting Kansas City
Kansas City is only marginally farther away -- the total distance is approximately 600 miles, in fact -- from Minnesota's home base than Chicago, so much of the same wisdom applies. The two cities don't have much of a history competing in other sports, meaning any rivalry will have to happen organically.
That's not impossible, but it won't feel real right off the bat. Unless Minnesota-Kansas City-Chicago (and Columbus) form some sort of MLS Midwest rivalry Voltron, the dynamics of a legitimate rivalry happening across such big distances are questionable.
Then again, like Chicago, Sporting is in need of a consistent rival that will stand the test of time. Why not Minnesota?
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.