The best rivalry takes years, if not centuries, to develop into something special.
Red Sox-Yankees, Coke and Pepsi, even Will Smith vs. Chris Rock didn’t show up overnight. All of them were built on history, emotions and, sometimes, bad blood.
Compare them to the brewing battle between City of Angels as well as san diego wave, two NWSL expansion franchises in Southern California. Both teams played their first games just five months ago. And they didn’t meet in a regular season game until Saturday.
Is that enough to build a rivalry? Probably no.
But this is a start.
“When Ali and Frazier first hit the ground running, people were excited. And it turned into this amazing rivalry,” said the former coach of the US women’s national team Jill Ellis, president of The Wave. “I don’t think it matters that he’s not 100 years old. There is nothing cooler than when you play with a team that is just up the street.
“These rivalries have to start somewhere.”
This one started with a hard fight 2-1 Angel City win in front of an announced crowd of 22,000 at Banc of California Stadium. The decisive goal was scored by Claire Emsley, fresh from Everton of the English Women’s Super League, two minutes after Tyler Lussy’s second yellow card left the team outnumbered.
Ali Riley scored another goal, her first in an NWSL game, for Angel City (5-4-2) in the ninth minute. Kristen McNabb played for league-leading San Diego (6-3-3) early in the second half.
Although Saturday’s game marked the first time the teams met in the league, they met twice in the NWSL Preseason Challenge Cup, with San Diego winning once and the other game ending in a draw. But the front offices of the two young franchises have been battling each other to sign players and hire staff for over a year now.
“We lost players because of San Diego. Julie Urman, co-founder and president of Angel City. “If you were a player and want to play in Southern California, you now have two options. So it’s definitely a rivalry.
“We have a lot of the same ingredients, but it’s the differences that will draw people in.”
Indeed, the teams have more in common than differences. Both are ambitious first-year franchises that together planted the NWSL flag in California’s fertile football soil, land that the league has long ignored. Both have respected, well-funded owners, billionaire Ronald Burkle of San Diego and expanded group of more than 100 people in Los Angeles, one of whom is led by a brilliant company of Hollywood celebrities, World Cup-winning soccer players and wealthy venture capitalists.
And both front offices are seen as progressive and visionary, interested in changing the sometimes level-headed NWSL while being a force for social change in their communities. This resulted in rivals working together off the field more often than competing on it.
“We were actually quite open with each other; what works, what doesn’t work,” Urman said. “We have common financial models, common strategies, because we want them to be successful.”
But this cooperation ends when the whistle blows.
“I really want to win,” Urman said. “We want to be the best in Southern California. We want to be the best in the league. So yes, we see it as a rivalry.
“I am a competitive person. We are a competitive club.”
And competition thrives, as does rivalry when both sides care about more than just the final score.
“I haven’t been to California for so long, but I’m already starting to get the feel of the vibe between LA and San Diego. This is a rivalry that really exists, ”said Angel City Coach Freya Kumbwho grew up outside of London.
Ellis is convinced Saturday was the start of something special, and Emsley made sure it was a memorable start by coming off the bench and scoring in the 36th minute of her NWSL debut.
“The reality is that it will grow and grow and grow,” Ellis said. “It’s only going to get worse over time.”