- Alexi Lalas, from a really good piece at The Classical on the Mexico-U.S. rivalry.
By Elizabeth Cotignola, writing from Montreal
When Toronto FC joined Major League Soccer back in 2007, the Columbus Crew, one of the league’s ten charter members, became their chief rival. This manufactured-for-MLS rivalry was largely a conflict of convenience, a function of the lack of any other team in closer proximity to Canada’s largest city and the fact that Reds fans required a destination for road trips. The rivalry served its purpose in those early years. Some 2,400 TFC supporters filled a grandstand at the end zone at Crew Stadium for the 2008 season opener. In 2009, some actual animosity was injected into the previously placid relationship when a post-game melee led to 20 Columbus Police Department cruisers arriving on scene, a tasering and some arrests – a rare display of rambunctiousness for the usually unfailingly polite Canadians.
But in general, Torontonians have nothing against the good people of Columbus, Ohio. As far as rivalries go, that’s a tad problematic. A competition which derives its moniker from a pretty plant - the teams compete for the Trillium Cup, named for the official flowers of Ontario and Ohio - isn’t the easiest to get excited about.
Enter the Montreal Impact. Major League Soccer’s nineteenth and newest franchise hails from the one city Torontonians love to hate most. The rivalry between these two cities has been manifested multiple times before: between the Argos and the Alouettes, the Blue Jays and the now-defunct Expos, and, most importantly, in the nation’s oldest sporting rivalry: that between the Maple Leafs and les Canadiens de Montréal. Fans of both sides have already even had a taste of what Montreal’s first season in Major League Soccer will bring.
Back in 2009 when the Impact, playing in the second-tier USL, were defending Canadian champions, the Reds went into Saputo Stadium needing to win by four goals to claim the title over the Whitecaps. They embarrassed their hosts, thumping them 6 goals to 1, to take the first trophy in the Toronto club’s history. A year later at BMO Field, TFC won 2-0 in a match featuring six yellow cards which saw Impact striker Roberto Brown sent off for a punch to the face of Toronto defender Nick Garcia.
“I think the fans came to see a soccer match and a boxing match - they got both,” said then-TFC striker Chad Barrett at the time. “You’re going to get a lot of feistiness, especially playing against Montreal. As of right now, that is our rival. It’s always going to be a heated matchup.”
Virtually no one from either side remains. But the sentiment lingers. The roots of this rivalry run deep – below layer upon layer of snow and ice.