Chicago loves its rivalries. Bulls vs Pistons (early 90’s). Blackhawks vs Red Wings (Pre 2013). Bears vs Packers (FOREVER). Back in 2010 the White Sox and Cubs cashed in on their rivalry and it’s now known as the Crosstown Cup sponsored by BP. Rivalries are a staple throughout professional sports, the collegiate level, as well as high school. Whatever their origin or however they developed this fact remains true; rivalries, often times, are actually healthy.
Rivalries in a professional sports setting can only lead to more growth for the NWSL. Fans respond to rivalry. Competition drives players. The NWSL has beginnings of some rivalries already, most notably Portland Thorns vs Seattle Reign. Ask fans and they will tell you it’s deeper than being in close proximity. The social media tandem for various NWSL teams have done a great job with twitter, tweeting out friendly sportsman like banter on games. They also do a fantastic job of highlighting their WNT players, connecting them to their club.
So what does rivalry mean for a team like the Chicago Red Stars in a young league like the NWSL? When NWSL released the schedule, it embraced rivalry. The season opens in April, holds a break for the Olympics, and shows five potential budding rivalries. The schedule has matches set up for local state neighboring teams. For the Red Stars, it features four games with FC Kansas City. Regionally, it makes the most logical sense. A drive between both cities can take about 7 hours depending on traffic. Socially, its support groups Chicago Local 134 and KC Blue Crew are friendly in their fandom and hold a mutual respect for each other. This year when the Red Stars meet FCKC, fans will witness two top tier teams in the league.
FCKC are reigning champs; and will feature two world cup champions in powerhouse midfielder Heather O’Reilly and boss defender Becky Sauerbrunn (Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are on maternity leave). Chicago Red Stars will feature world cup champions Christen Press, Julie Johnston, and newly acquired GK Alyssa Naeher. Red Stars are coming off a solid 2015 season where they held a strong record in the absence of their world cup participants (8 total players representing 3 countries). They fell short of claiming the league shield holding onto the 2nd seed and hosted a semi-final appearance against FCKC. During the regular season CRS managed a win and draw against FCKC, however, Red Stars lost their first ever playoff game at home. Giving up 3 goals in 25 minutes. The first goal coming on a poor mishandling of the ball by keeper Dalton. The Red Stars season had ended. FCKC advanced to the final, defeated Seattle Reign and became Back to Back NWSL Champions. What a great set up for a rivalry to get behind.
Will the Chicago Red Stars and Kansas City FC go down as one of the more memorable rivalries in NWSL? The table is set and time will tell.