While Major League Soccer's biggest rivalries might not yet have the marquee value of Yankees vs. Red Sox or Duke vs. Carolina, give the league credit for coming up with an innovative showcase for its top regional matchups. Among the "Rivalry Week" games this weekend are showdowns in the East (D.C. United at New York Red Bulls), Midwest (Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City) and West (Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders).
NBC Sports has ambitious plans for the event, starting with Saturday's United—Red Bulls game (12:30/11:30am c, NBC), followed by seven hours of coverage on NBC Sports Network. That includes MLS Breakway, a whip-around show starting at 5:30/4:30c, during which play-by-play man Arlo White and analyst Kyle Martino will jump between matches and highlights, along with host Russ Thaler. The trio will first call the United-Red Bulls game in Harrison, N.J., before shooting up to the NBC Sports Group's studios in Stamford, Conn. "I will be kept nicely caffeinated, I'm sure, throughout the day," White jokes. "But the adrenaline should take care of it."
The day's first game should set a contentious tone for the day. The perpetually underachieving New York franchise will be out for revenge after D.C. knocked it out of the playoffs last fall. "The one thing that will come across," White says, "is the genuine dislike between the teams and between the fans which will create a bubbling, crackling atmosphere."
New York's roster is led by iconic French striker Thierry Henry, whose resume includes a World Cup title and league championships in both England (with Arsenal) and Spain (with Barcelona). At 35, he's still one of the most dangerous players on the pitch. "Thierry Henry may appear to be a pouty Frenchman sometimes, but the competitive fire burns as brightly as ever," White says. "He demands high standards of his teammates. And whilst Henry is around, with that attitude and his quality, New York definitely has a chance."
The full TV schedule for Rivalry Week:
Saturday, March 16
- D.C. United at New York Red Bulls (12:30/11:30am c, NBC; in the New York City area the game will air on NBC Sports Network and Cozi TV)
- Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City (3/2c, NBC Sports Network)
- MLS Breakaway (5:30/4:30c, NBC Sports Network) The two-and-a-half hour whip-around show includes action from Toronto FC at Montreal Impact, New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union, San Jose Earthquakes at Columbus Crew; and Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake
- Portland Timber at Seattle Sounders (8/7c, NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, March 17
Houston Dynamo at FC Dallas (1/noon c, ESPN2)
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- New York Red Bulls
- NBC Sports
- Sporting Kansas City
- NBC Sports Network
- Seattle Sounders