Today, the CONCACAF Champions League returns from its winter hiatus. The two biggest matches both involve MLS teams, as Toronto FC hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy while the Seattle Sounders play Mexican powerhouses Santos Laguna.
Normally, I'm all for solidarity in continental competition. I was on the #MLS4RSL bandwagon and I even rooted for the Montreal Impact all those years ago. (In my defense, I was still an Edmonton Aviators so viewed myself as a pro-Canadian neutral. My cheering for a soccer team is pretty much the kiss of death.) I cheered on the Americans in the last men's World Cup. Sometimes, a rising tide really does lift all boats.
But cheering for Seattle and Toronto? That's a bridge too far. When Toronto visits Qwest Field I root for al-Qaeda. The centre of the universe and the barfing electro-clowns? Nothing is worth swallowing that much bile.
Some will say this is petty. I've been told by intelligent people that I must, for example, "support MLS in all things"; the old Red Green principle. Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together. Seattle is a fellow MLS team trying to gain respect for our league from the nigh-invulnerable Mexicans; Toronto is a fellow Canadian team trying to show that two quarter-final berths in four years shows we're worth more than a piddling half spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
But that's dumb. Hate is awesome, and the joy of watching a loathsome rival burst into an inferno of puke-green flame while tens of thousands of their fans look on in helpless agony is one of the greatest feelings a human being can experience. I've never had any children, but I imagine cradling my newborn in my arms will feel a lot like watching Toronto lose ugly to the Puerto Rico Islanders few years ago.
When the games kick off I'll be rooting for Los Angeles and Santos Laguna, willing two teams I normally don't care for very much on to dominant victory. There is just one question: it's hard, even for me, to muster enough hate for two games in one day. So which of Toronto and Seattle should I root against harder?
On the one hand, the Sounders are much bigger rivals. They're regional, they win enough to be threatening rather than laughable, and the Major League Soccer media has a boner for them. Mediocre players become gods just because they put on the pustulent kit; heck, even their play-by-play guy gets pimped for major national positions just because he calls Sounders games.
I'm the sort of guy who hates annoying things more when they get exposure, and the Sounders are more exposed than a pervert at the park on a sunny day when the kids are playing. I also resent success (and the Sounders, while no Los Angeles Galaxy, are moderately successful) and a view that proven sacks of crap like O'Brian White suddenly become actual soccer players when they hit town. Even their coach, chummily called "Sigi" by pretty much everyone, is treated as a totem of wisdom to the extent that when a guy with a mid-first round pick says "I like the middle of the first round" people say "oooh, how authoritative" rather than "what a banal lump of flesh this man is." So the Sounders have no trouble working me up.
Then again, the FCs are the Canadian media. You can't swing a taser in this country without hitting a soccer writer from Toronto predicting their ridiculous Dutch coach will lead their team to the playoffs because he says all their players are good, while he researches other teams on Wikipedia and bases his prediction of their skill on what type of field they have. (There was a brief moment of sanity when that ridiculous Dutch coach denied Toronto reporters access to their precious dressing room interviews, which was awesome for about forty-five minutes until he gave up in the manner all Toronto fans are familiar with.)
Toronto FC is the least successful team in Major League Soccer history. They make the Toronto Lynx look professionally run and competitive. However, they did fluke out a win over a weakened FC Dallas team months ago so now this is the biggest event in Canadian soccer history! I hope the decaying, overpriced baseball diamond they play in is their tomb.
But at least Toronto doesn't usually pretend it invented Canadian soccer; too many embarrassing Lynx memories to get away with that kind of hubris. Seattle is not so restrained. They invented North American supporters culture, the banner, jumping up and down, marching bands, FieldTurf, craft beer, chewing up and spitting out forwards at a rate that would make Mo Johnston blush, and electrical tape.
Most supporters I know aren't that impressed by Seattle's literal song and dance. They jump around and they sing tunelessly about how great they are and only a few of that conformist mass seem tangentially aware there's a soccer game on. Yet they act like the greatest thing to come to MLS since Pat Onstad. It's like if I went to work, spent eight hours in my boss's office talking about how incredible I was, then went home and considered that not only "doing my job" but "inventing my job".
There's a reason Portlandia's "please please win, meow meow meow" joke could only work with the Timbers. Seattle fans lack the sensory awareness to notice.
It's not that Toronto fans aren't annoying; it's that they're annoying in the same way fans of every Toronto sports team are annoying. "We're the best! Delay the Eskimos game for highlights of a Leafs practice! Put us on Hockey Night in Canada every single fucking week since the Second World War! Give us the Grey Cup even though 99% of this city can't give two craps about the CFL! Pretend the Blue Jays are in some way relevant!" I don't know how the Toronto Rock escape these stink-rays but I admire them for it.
That's the easiest reason for Vancouver fans to cheer for Los Angeles today: because it's fun to see Toronto lose. That won't stop the egomania, of course; we'll just be treated to people saying that losing to Los Angeles is merely a minor hurdle on the FC's charge to greatness or that this is the greatest catastrophe in Canadian soccer history. But in the former case we can smile at their insanity and in the latter case we can laugh at their breakdown; I think that's the only reason most of the country bothers with Leafs games anymore.
I can't tell you who to boo hardest. That's your decision; the only wrong move is not to boo at all.