On Tuesday MLS announced that St. Louis is going to be home to the next MLS expansion team. The unnamed expansion team will begin their play in 2022, and it brings up a lot of discussion around more Midwestern based rivalries. This may also affect the Fire’s position within MLS, in terms of rivalries and conference alignment.
The sports rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis mostly stems from the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. Both teams have been around for over 100 years, so they have a head start over the other rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. There is a sufficient amount of sports hate between the two cities to create an automatic budding rivalry once the St. Louis franchise takes the field in 2022.
Despite this, for the rivalry to take off in MLS I think there still needs to be major fireworks between the two teams once they start facing off against one another. It has not been stated whether this St. Louis team will be in the Eastern or Western Conference, but the East will gain Nashville and Miami, and the West will gain Austin all before St. Louis arrives. It is very possible that St. Louis will play in the Western conference. If that happens it would mean not going up against St. Louis every year. The Cubs-Cardinals and Blackhawks-Blues rivalries have the benefit of being in the same division and multiple matchups a season.
In April, MLS announced that it has plans to grow to 30 teams. A league that large with an unbalanced schedule may need to adopt a division system within each conference. This could be a great thing for developing regional rivalries across the entire league, but especially for the potential rivalry that is Fire vs Unnamed St. Louis Team SC. It’s in the best interest of MLS to add more teams to the middle of the country in order to create more proximity-based rivalries.
Level of play will likely be the deciding factor to how strong this rivalry is for years to come. If the Fire are competing year in and year out for a playoff spot with the St. Louis team then I could see the rivalry building to be one of the best in the league. If these matchups lack significant moments or become too one-sided then this rivalry may fall by the wayside. There’s already such a strong base of “sports hate” between the cities, so competing in high-stakes games will ignite both sides both on the field and in the stands.