Major League Soccer

MLS Rivalry Week explained: Key dates and games to watch

Chris Smith
MLS rivalry week kicks off with LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes on Friday.
MLS rivalry week kicks off with LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes on Friday. / Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

As if the excitement of the All-Star game wasn't enough, MLS Rivalry Week returns on Friday.

For newcomers to the league, this might seem like a foreign concept. But fear not; 90min is here to tell you everything you need to know.

What is MLS Rivalry Week?

Offering up some of the best entertainment of the regular season, Rivalry Week is a week-long run of games that pits MLS' biggest rivals against each other.

Whether it's a geographical rivalry such as the El Trafico clash between LA Galaxy and LAFC, or the historic match-up of DC United vs New York Red Bulls, these are the pre-playoff games every fan looks forward to at the start of the season.

With derby matches hard to forge in MLS due to the sheer distances between teams, the league puts real emphasis on these games. Individual clubs go to great lengths to ramp up the atmosphere at these events and, in turn, the matchday experience is much closer to those experienced in the likes of Germany and England.

When does this year's Rivalry Week take place?

The 2021 MLS Rivalry Week commences on Friday 20 August with LA Galaxy hosting San Jose Earthquakes. It concludes on 29 August with the weekend featuring some blockbuster ties, including El Trafico, the Hudson River Derby and a Texas derby between Austin FC and FC Dallas.

Three must-watch 2021 MLS Rivalry Week matches:

1. LAFC vs LA Galaxy (August 28th, 2pm PDT)

El Trafico has already produced plenty of fireworks despite only coming into existence in 2018.
El Trafico has already produced plenty of fireworks despite only coming into existence in 2018. / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It might not have the history of the Cali Clasico, but El Trafico has quickly become the most entertaining game in MLS.

Since the Galaxy's 4-3 win in the first meeting between these two sides in March 2018, there have been 11 editions of this fixture. LA Galaxy lead the series 5-3, with a further three draws, but LAFC have won three of the last four.

What's more, there has never been fewer than two goals scored in an individual match between LA Galaxy and LAFC, with the two sides producing 3-2, 3-3, 5-3 and 6-2 scorelines between June 2019 and July 2020 alone.

This year, we can look forward to Mexican icons Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Carlos Vela going head-to-head for Los Angeles supremacy.

2. Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers (August 29th, 7:30pm PDT)

Marco Faran, Shandon Hopeau
Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers is one of the most historic derbies in MLS. / Abbie Parr/Getty Images

El Trafico might be the new kid on the block but for many, the Cascadia Cup clash between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers is the ultimate MLS rivalry.

Separated by two-and-a-half hours of I-5 highway, these two sides have history well pre-dating MLS and have met 123 times in total over the years.

But in MLS play (including playoffs), the Sounders just lead the way with 14 wins to the Timbers' 13. Seattle have been to three of the last four MLS Cup finals, winning in 2016, while the Timbers lifted the title in 2015 and were runners-up to Atlanta United in 2018.

This is usually a much tighter affair than El Trafico, but Seattle and Portland have two of the most passionate fanbases in MLS and always generate an incredible atmosphere.

3. New York Red Bulls vs NYCFC (August 21st, 8pm EST)

RBNY and NYCFC have met 18 times so far.
RBNY and NYCFC have met 18 times so far. / Kevin R. Wexler/ via

To outsiders, this may seem like the most manufactured rivalry in MLS. One club are owned by Red Bull GmbH, while the other is the North American arm of the City Football Group. Furthermore, it's been somewhat tainted by the fact NYCFC have had to play a number of games at Red Bull Arena due to fixture clashing at Yankees Stadium.

But make no mistake, this fixture means everything to the fans, who simply refuse to give ground to each other. The Red Bulls' 7-0 win over NYCFC in May 2016 is just one of the examples of the dizzying highs and crushing lows this derby can serve up. And it has played host to some MLS greats over the years, including Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Villa and Maxi Moralez.

This year's Rivalry Week edition will pit a high-flying NYCFC side against a Red Bulls outfit struggling to make the playoffs, but there's nothing like a derby to kick-start your season, right?