by: Evan Floyd
For all of our mockery (some friendly, some… uhh… less so), the rivalry between FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC is the best thing going in the USL. The games have mostly been competitive and a little nasty, the drive is easy for both fan bases, and the results have been about as even as it is possible to be. The stands are packed. There is pettiness. And the two teams have generally been relevant in the standings. Despite the USL’s best effort, it is called the Dirty River Derby, and it has been awesome.
But it is time to face facts. Whether you like it or not, FCC is likely to go to the MLS sooner rather than later. The best case scenario for this budding super-rivalry is that we get three more years of beating each other up three or four times a year before the transition happens and we are left with only occasional Cup games or pre-season unfriendlies.
The same holds even more true for Nashville. As much fun as the Sour Mash Soccer Bash could have been, it will never be allowed to blossom into the awesome series that it could have been. A few games this year, a few games next year, and then LCFC will be abandoned again for Major League Soccer. Maybe FCC or NSC will eventually form second division feeder teams that Los Morados would get to thrash year in and year out, but it won’t be the same.
It leaves a void. A cold, empty nothingness where our fanatical hearts should have been beating inside our Purple and Gold clad chests. The cure for this dearth of regional rivalries is simple, and it comes in the form of former NASL side Indy 11.
Five games into their inaugural season in the USL, Indy 11 is still a bit of a mystery. They play at Lucas Oil Stadium, which if they draw 15,000 fans per game would be AWESOME. But if they draw 7,000 fans per game, it will be an ominously big space for so few fans. They have had nice results so far. If they were to beat Cincinnati and LCFC this week they will sit comfortably on the table among the league’s elite. But it’s hard to know what kind of team they are going to have.
I remember the minute Cincinnati announced they were getting a team and there was almost instant animosity between their fan base and ours. It has only grown with each bite, each blow out, each elimination, and each humiliation. But it truly started as soon as the team was formed.
That has not been the case with Indy. Perhaps it’s because Indy 11 already existed, present but separate in a completely different league. Maybe it’s because Louisville as a city tends to compare itself more with Cincinnati than Indianapolis. Maybe it’s because I-65 is a less interesting connector than the Ohio River. But for whatever reason, I haven’t seen, heard, or felt the same level of, well… RIVALRY with Indy 11. Not when we played them in a pre-season game. Not when we played them in the USL Cup, and not even when their move to the USL was confirmed.
This needs to change. LCFC desperately needs the Indy 11 game to Matter, capital M. When the MLS expansion dust settles, we will be staring down the barrel of at least five years where Indy 11 is our most natural rival by league, proximity, city size, and the independent nature of our teams. Creating a little heat and a little buzz now will pay big dividends for the long-term future of both clubs and for the USL in general.
Smarter people than I am can debate the relative merits of regional rivalries. There are arguments to be made that they are a form of tribalism that creates true animosity and dangerously jingoistic attitudes that undermine the spirit of friendly competition and foster divisive attitudes at a time when we, as citizens of the Mid-West, should be coming together for the common good.
To that I say… yeah, well, that’s like, your opinion man.
I think great Derby games are fun! They ramp up the emotion, the competition, the fun and the pageantry of games that, if we think deep, don’t ACTUALLY matter at all. This is entertainment and Derby games are more entertaining than playing Richmond on a random Tuesday in August.
But for that to be the case, we need Indy 11 to be a rivalry game in more than name only. Some of this can’t be forced. A few playoff games against each other would help. Some interesting or controversial games would help. Both teams staying relevant in the standings would definitely help. But one thing is certain… traveling fan bases are a MUST. Several hundred or even thousand fans making the short drive to the opposing stadium will help create stakes and fan interest.
Because that is true, I shake my head at the USL’s scheduling.
I understand that the league has a lot of balls to juggle to make a schedule. Between stadium availability, balancing schedules, travel arrangements, etc., there is a lot to consider. But as I have mentioned, the USL needs this rivalry to pop. It may be the best regional rivalry the league has to offer in a few years. How, in the name of all that is holy, did they schedule the first game of this rivalry on DERBY day? Louisville doesn’t have a lot of events that command attention. It has one. And it is an enormous spectacle that sucks the air out of everything else happening in the city for three weeks. Vacation schedules are made around the Kentucky Derby. Parties are planned. Family budgets are altered to take this singular weekend into account. And the powers that be decided to launch their new, best hopeful rivalry on a day when the city of Louisville at large COULDN’T CARE LESS.
My wife and I, along with several other members of Scouse’s House, will be making the trek up to Indianapolis this weekend to watch the game. Because we are crazy, die hard, obsessive LCFC fans. And I’m sure that many other fans will be in Lucas Oil Stadium wearing purple as well. But those will, again, be the adamantium core of the fan base. And even for us, the decision wasn’t an easy one. There is just too much going on in Louisville this weekend for the casual soccer fan to divert their attention to Indianapolis. I hate that the league has done this.
Plus, I don’t even know the official rivalry name. Is it the Horsepower Derby? The i-65 Rivalry? The Better than Basketball Bonanza? This is the type of game that should be draped in legitimacy and coverage. Every fourth article on the USL website should be touting this match. The supporter’s groups from both sides should be clamoring to formulate new traditions, institute some pageantry, and drum up interest. This game SHOULD be the tent pole from which all other games drape. But instead, it is being treated like an interesting game of no particular significance.
If this game was being played two weeks after the Indianapolis 500 (the Indy 11 equivalent of Derby Day), there could/should/would be caravans of fans making the trip North. There would be debates about whether we could bring in our own tifos. There would be social media arguments about whether or not we could being our drums and smoke and kazoos. There would be cheap shots about how our BIG RACE is better than their BIG RACE. The would be a unified name for the game, and pre-game plans for supporter’s groups to meet up and square off.
Instead, the USL has failed to promote what should be their marquee game. And not only have they failed to promote it, their scheduling of it has actively hindered it’s growth. I love a good Derby game… but no Derby in Louisville will EVER compare to the one happening at Churchill Downs.