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Gateway to a rivalry? Fire already eager for new St. Louis team

St. Louis has been awarded an expansion team that’s set to begin play in 2022. The Fire hope they will be aligned with their potential new rival.

Carolyn Kindle Betz, a member of the ownership group of the new soccer franchise, and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber display a St. Louis soccer scarf after the announcement Tuesday in St. Louis.
AP Photos

Chicago and St. Louis are rival cities with sports teams that don’t like each other. The Fire are eager to join the fray, and president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez already is playfully throwing jabs at the unnamed team down Interstate 55.

“At the end of the day, Chicago has 27 major sports championships,” Rodriguez told the Sun-Times. “St. Louis has only [14], and who wouldn’t want a younger brother like that?”

On Aug. 20, MLS awarded an expansion team to St. Louis that is expected to begin play in 2022.

Nationally, observers were hoping St. Louis would be rewarded with a team to carry on the city’s rich soccer tradition.

In Chicago, the addition means a new geographical foe for the Fire, whose main rival is the Columbus Crew. In the past, playoff matchups with the New England Revolution generated a rivalry, but the teams haven’t met in the postseason since 2009.

Rodriguez said the I-55 corridor will be “fantastic” for traveling supporters from both sides, whom he expects to venture in big numbers. And, of course, the rivalry will fit in with Cubs-Cardinals and Blackhawks-Blues.

“When you have a team that is in a historical rival city across all the major sports, and it’s geographically close, I think that’s one that will stand the test of time,” Rodriguez said.

Whether St. Louis eventually supplants Columbus as the Fire’s main rival remains to be seen. But at the very least, the new club should spice things up for the Fire, who could still develop a rivalry with Minnesota United, which joined MLS in 2017.

But, as Rodriguez points out, geography is only one factor in the development of a rivalry.

The teams will have to play each other frequently and meet in big games to really hit a boiling point.

That’s part of the reason why Minnesota-Fire has yet to click. The teams are in different conferences.

“You need to play each other,” Rodriguez said.

While the quality of the teams will depend on Fire and St. Louis management, alignment and scheduling will fall to MLS.

Rodriguez emphasized that point but said the Fire will “express an opinion and a desire to be with St. Louis, and I hope they would reciprocate.”

If everything goes as expected, St. Louis would be the league’s 28th team, and Rodriguez said MLS is working on alignments. Also, the league does consider rivalries.

Or, as the Fire hope, budding rivalries. Rodriguez is looking forward to a 2022 Rivalry Week that includes Seattle-Portland, Los Angeles FC-LA Galaxy, New York City FC-New York Red Bulls and Fire-St. Louis.

“It feels natural, right?” Rodriguez said.