Major League Soccer finally has a rivalry worthy of the name but the nasty edge to Thursday’s second leg of the Western Conference semi-finals between the two glamour teams, LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, might not be quite what the league’s marketing men had hoped for.
The match had been billed as a clash between the team’s two big-name, big-money imports, LA’s David Beckham and New York’s Thierry Henry, but the buildup has been dominated by a war of words between New York’s Luke Rodgers and LA’s Landon Donovan.
The pair have been trading insults ever since Rodgers unleashed a foul-mouthed criticism of Donovan after a game in May, claiming the league’s poster boy had insulted Frenchman Henry and badgered the referee.
Donovan issued a sarcastic retaliation through Twitter: “I’m confused, who is Luke Rogers?”, complete with a mis-spelling of the striker’s name.
Relations between the teams have sunk even further, with Sunday’s first-leg, won 1-0 by the Galaxy, ending in a melee.
The Red Bulls’ Mexican defender Rafa Marquez, who lobbed a ball at Donovan’s leg and later took a dive in the ensuing fracas, was given a red card along with LA’s Brazilian Juninho who appeared to elbow a Red Bull player in the face.
Donovan has again found himself in the centre of attention after describing the Red Bulls as “the cheapest team” he has played against, a derogatory American term for an unsporting or dirty team.
Speaking on Wednesday, Rodgers said Donovan’s description was off target.
“We’re not a cheap team. If calling a team cheap is having the will to win and tackling, putting everything into the game, I don’t call it a cheap team, I call it a winning team,” he said.
“In my eyes, a lot of their players were doing the same thing.”
Rodgers highlighted some incidents in the game where he said LA had gone too far and had a simple riposte for Donovan: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
The former Notts County forward then offered an insight into some of the ‘trash talk’ that was going on during the game at Red Bull Arena.
“It’s funny that people saying we’re the cheaper team. I got into an argument with the goalkeeper (Josh Saunders) and he was saying, ‘You’re in my country now. You’re in my country.’ I found that funny by the way,” Rodgers said.
Donovan has refused to back down from his characterization of the Red Bulls and in a local radio interview said he had just wanted to give his version of events.
“I was clearly not happy with how things ended and I wanted to make sure that people knew what was going on,” he said.
“When you have people who are disgracing or shaming the game that we are trying to build, that is really frustrating and none of us want to see that.”