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To Be Or Not To Be (A Rival): Sporting Kansas City and The Chicago Fire

Rivalries are born, not made. Except in Kansas City apparently. But have they succeeded?

John Gress - Getty Images

The dynamic between Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire has been odd since their re-branding in 2011. Sporting want a rivalry with the Fire. Desperately. In a wonderful piece written on this site by James Coston, which details the history (for lack of a better term) of the rivalry, which started mostly when SKC CEO Rob Heineman rebranded the Kansas City Wizards at the start of the 2011 season. It was mostly corporate wrangling that first year, as the Fire won 3-2 in Toyota Park and ruined the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park with a nil-nil draw. Aptly named Firehouse Subs in Kansas City held a promotion that stated that if the Fire lost, they would give away free subs. Every goal KC scored against Chicago would mean a $500 donation to Livestrong. And arbitrarily SKC declared us as rivals.

That seems to be a systematic problem within the power structure of Major League Soccer. The idea that rivalries are there just because you say there is one there is what MLS does. An example of this would be forcing the "Super Classico" between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy down our throats while almost ignoring the more important (and competitive) "California Classico" between LA and San Jose. Or the shoehorning of the Whotecaps into the PDX/Seattle thing. MLS has a history of this.

I asked about the state of the rivalry (or lack thereof) on Twitter, and the responses were as one would expect. There is no rivalry. Here are some of the responses I was able to gather:

@PrimaryX: No. Besides MLS Cup final in 2000, [And the 2004 US Open Cup final] we've never played a really significant playoff game vs them. Plus they sucked till last year!

@rgrabe20: Not yet, but there might be one after Friday. KC has just been a non-entity for about 200 years now.

@TrueMartyParty As far as I'm concerned rivalries are created off the pitch & there's no way that the singing of Shots rivals anything #cf97 does.

This is not just the opinion of the fans either. The player's opinions on the issue reflect the opinions of the fans. Two long time members of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, Frank Klopas and Chris Rolfe, weighed in on the issue:

"In the past it was never a big game." Said Chris Rolfe. "In the past they played at Arrowhead and they'd get like a thousand people. It was like a friendly game. It didn't feel like it was important at all."

"I think It hasn't been one in the past" said Frank Klopas. "There have been bigger rivalries. I don't think Kansas City has been one in the past"

With both teams being good, and both set up for a run at the number one playoff spot, and a first round bye, a rivalry because of on field reasons seemed inevitable. Then this happened:

(Hat tip to Jeff Crandall and this article for the tweet pics. I have to learn how to do that)

The "Fear The Flag" campaign was on, and it was on hard now. #FearTheFlag became a mantra for all Fire fans on twitter in recent days. And for the better part of a month, there was quiet from Kansas City. And suddenly, flags weren't feared anymore. Robb Heineman changed the flag policy for away fans to match with the rest of the league. But there was a wrinkle in the ruling that couldn't be figured out. What did he mean by "no flags during the run of play"?

When this question was posed to Kansas City management by the Section 8 BoD, they cameback with our worst fears:

Flags can be flown during pre-game, half-time, post-game, and after any goal is scored. They were explicit to message that flags cannot be flown during the run of play, including any stoppages where play is stopped for a foul or out of bounds.

The ISA board wrote a response on the Section 8 website

Each respective front office throughout the league loves supporter photo ops but also have to accept that our style of support is a thoughtful and passionate expression that can't be dictated or orchestrated through policy or instruction. It has to be organic or it is a lie. We support from the heart.

It is the role of supporter leadership to develop safe and vibrant means of support, focusing on inclusion and guarding against antisocial behaviors like fighting and abuse. For a front office to try to dictate how and when to use our elements of support is entirely unacceptable.

Sporting Kansas City may have gotten their rivalry, but they sacrificed their credibility.