It's RIVALRY WEEK in CPL: Is it time to rethink the 905 Derby?
It’s the age-old question - what makes a rivalry in soccer?
They're often the most-anticipated matches of the season. There's nothing better that can stoke a competitive fire than two teams battling it out for pride as well as points on the line. But what even makes a rivalry develop, anyway?
Proximity, perhaps? The ability for supporters to travel to home and away games in droves helps build the atmosphere needed to make a rivalry feel like it's heated. But success also helps, as winning teams will typically play more intense games, leading to the development of natural rivalries if you play a team in high-stakes matches enough times. However, sometimes all it takes is one moment of bad blood in a game – a nasty tackle, an on-field fight, a controversial decision, for instance – and the seeds of hate are planted, too.
And there's even culture to consider. Language, history, social structures, hell, even food – each and all of these can spark rivalries. You don't have to look far to find an example of this, as the Canadian Classique between CF Montréal and Toronto FC extends far off the pitch.
As the Canadian Premier League rolls through its fifth season, a few rivalries of its own have developed, in various ways. Cavalry FC took on FC Edmonton with dominance of Alberta at the forefront; Forge vs. Cavalry was born of steel sharpening steel as two title contenders repeatedly clashed; Pacific vs. Vancouver isn't just about two cities nearby meeting – it's about two ways of life clashing on the west coast, too.
Friday, June 2nd 7pm ⚔️— Vancouver Football Club (@vanfootballclub) May 30, 2023
The rivalry comes to the mainland.
⚽️ vs @Pacificfccpl
📍Willoughby Community Park at @LangleyEvents
⏰ Doors open at 5:30pm. Kickoff at 7pm
🎟️ Don’t miss this historic first derby. Ticket link in bio#VancouverFC | #CanPL pic.twitter.com/Bq05QH4rIH
In terms of flash-in-the-pan moments? Valour FC vs. the Halifax Wanderers always seems to have something in it, while York vs. Cavalry have usually produced feisty battles.
All of this to say, for a young league in just its fifth season, rivalries are starting to take root in all these different ways ... and a whole bunch of 'em are on offer this week, beginning with one of the league's original derbies: York United travels to Forge FC for another 905 Derby clash.
A rematch of the first-ever match in CPL history, those teams will do battle in Hamilton for the 19th time on Wednesday, as they continue to grow this local divide (about 100 kilometres separate these two sides).
Yet, while this derby is undoubtedly one of the most obvious in the CPL, it has lacked one key factor in its young history: Competitive history.
They've never met in the Canadian Championship. Forge has won 11 to York's 6, with one draw between them in five seasons. The biggest match between the two came in the 2021 CPL semi-finals, but the game itself hasn’t really stuck in the memory the same way Forge vs. Cavalry in 2022 or Pacific vs. Cavalry in 2021 did, as Forge cruised past York 3-1 on that day with a late flurry of goals.
Because of that, the 905 Derby has lacked some of that natural spiciness that can take a local derby to the next level.
As an example, the Canadian Classique was kicked up a notch because of a thrilling 2016 MLS playoffs meeting that will go down in the history books, while the already-historic Cascadia three-way derby between the Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers was only fuelled by each team facing each other at least once in the playoffs over the last decade.
Even in CPL, part of the reason why Forge vs. Cavalry is so huge is due to playoff meetings in 2019 and 2022, as well as their infamous Canadian Championship meeting in 2019. History in heated moments helps fan the flames of discontent.
Speaking of Cascadia, here's another important point: Might it be time to reconsider how the 905 Derby is viewed in Ontario?
The emergence of Atlético Ottawa as a brash, fearless and competitive outfit, boasting some the best support in the league, has seen the team overcome two quiet years to begin their CPL existence with a ferocious 2022 that saw them pip Forge FC for the regular season title before falling in the CPL finals ... in front of a packed Ottawa crowd, littered with Forge away fans.
You can bet the Ottawa support were none too pleased to see a section of orange celebrate trophy triumph in their own house.
Since then, Ottawa has continued to stoke the fires between their two fellow Ontario sides, both on and off the pitch.
On it, they were competitive, finishing with a record of 1W-2D-1L against Forge, and 1W-3D-0L against York, including a record of 2W-2D-0L in four road games. Off it, their fans brought the energy both on social media, where they had a track record of getting under the skin of rival fans, as well as in stadiums, as they had some great away support at all of their games.
Because of that, it seemed to then get the most out of York and Forge. York beating Ottawa on penalties in the preliminary round of the 2022 Canadian Championship seemed to mean just that bit more for them, while there was a ruthlessness to the way that Forge went about their meeting with Ottawa in the 2022 CPL finals, as it felt like they wanted to send a message to Ottawa in the way that they beat them.
That competitiveness has spilled over into this year, too, as York’s lone clash with Ottawa thus far was an intense 1-0 road victory for York, while Forge narrowly edged out a 1-0 win over Ottawa this past weekend in a game that meant enough for their players to shush Ottawa’s fans after a late winner. Along with a good Canadian Championship clash between Forge and Ottawa a few weeks back that ended with Forge edging Ottawa on penalties, matchups between Ottawa and their Ontario foes have usually been close and intense.
As a result, fresh off that Forge vs. Ottawa clash, and ahead of York vs. Forge, it’s time to pose an important question: Is it time for Ottawa to be included in this York vs. Forge derby, Cascadia style?
It feels like the answer is yes. Seeing the energy that Ottawa has brought to the table, it feels like they’ve brought a bit of that spark that hasn’t always been there in the 905 Derby.
They might not have that advantage of proximity that York and Forge have, given that Ottawa is over 400 kilometres away from both sides, but they’re close enough for fans to travel between games. Along with the fact that they’re all in the same province, giving them the motivation to battle for the mantle of “Kings of Ontario" the fit is there.
Through that, they could then make a trophy to battle for, the same way Cascadia has the Cascadia Cup. It could allow these rivalries to grow even further, as all of a sudden seemingly meaningless July encounters between these teams would have the added importance of helping these teams win whatever this cup ends up becoming.
Plus, it’d highlight the most important thing as a young league continues to create and grow derbies across the league - the importance of fans in this whole process.
NEW 🚨 | "WE ARE MASSIVE"@AlexGangueRuzic's latest BIG (massive?) READ explores the growth of a massive supporter's culture in Ottawa, which will be on full display in @AtletiOttawa's massive Leg 2 battle vs. @PacificFCCPL— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 21, 2022
READ 👇 | #CanPL #ForOttawa https://t.co/lhTz2GtgRX pic.twitter.com/by8XYehqEO
Canada might not have the privilege of having centuries-old derbies like in some countries, but if you look at some of those historic battles, fans are always in the middle of it. And when one looks at the burgeoning rivalry Ottawa has had with its fellow Ontario sides, and vice-versa, fans have been a key heartbeat to that.
Ultimately, when the league grows in 10, 20 and 50 years' time, players and executives will come and go, but fans will be forever there, carrying on the traditions created before them. That’s what makes derbies so special, and that’s why this potential three-way Ontario battle has the potential to be key to lighting a spark for the sport in the region, while paving the way for derbies such as the one between Pacific FC and Vancouver FC to similarly follow suit as it grows, too.
Ultimately, everyone benefits from a good derby, so in the midst of a week filled with them in the CPL, they serve as both a reminder of how far things have come in Canada, and what’s still to come as this country continues to build its soccer culture.
And while we're here and thinking about it... it's high time Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew retired their own bogus rivalry. The Trillium Cup, based on the Trillium Flower of both Ontario and Ohio, seems a much more fitting prize for this triumverate of Ontario-based CPL sides to fight over, rather than continuing to force TFC and the Crew to maintain the charade of their own supposed, pre-Montreal and Cincinnati affair. It's literally a three-petal flower. Could it be any more fitting?