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Ranking the 7 best current rivalries in the USL Championship

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 07/27/23, 4:30PM EDT


Find out our pick for the league’s best feud, and tell us which one rates highest for you

Louisville City FC and Indy Eleven have dueled in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and USL Championship since the 2015 season. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

This Saturday night will see the second edition this season of the Louisville Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest – or LIPAFC for short – when Louisville City FC plays host to Indy Eleven at Lynn Family Stadium (8 p.m. ET | ESPN+).

It’s one of those games that both clubs and fanbases always have circled on the calendar given the relative distance between the two cities, and the rivalry that has developed between two clubs whose aspirations are always high going into every season.

It’s produced some classic encounters – the 2019 Eastern Conference Final likely at the top of the list for neutrals – but in each outing you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.

But where does it rank among the best rivalries in the USL Championship’s current collection?

We’re here to take a look across the landscape and gauge the current state of play. Disagree – and you probably will – then take our poll as to your favorite current rivalry, or on social media tell us the rivalries we should be considering.

All set? Here we go.

1. Derby Del Camino Real – El Paso Locomotive FC vs. New Mexico United

Both arriving in the USL Championship in 2019, El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United have quickly ignited a fierce rivalry in the Southwest. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC

Series Record in USL Championship – ELP 4 wins, NM 4 wins, Draws 7

The Story: If you’re looking for a rivalry that has all the elements that make for a deep-seated hate, this one checks all the boxes.

Longstanding icons on each side? Check.

Parallel histories in the league? Check.

Playoff History? Check.

Dead even record? Check.

From the travelling New Mexico support that helped set a Locomotive FC club record attendance when these teams met on July 1, and their recent propensity of winning on the other’s home turf, these two squads are the opposite sides of the same coin. It’s an event every time they meet.

2. LIPAFC – Indy Eleven vs. Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC and Indy Eleven played one of the best playoff games in league history in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final at Michael A. Carroll Stadium. | Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven

Series Record in USL Championship: LOU 8 wins, IND 4 wins, Draws 6

The Story: There was a long period during which this started to develop a little bit of a big brother, little brother vibe, during the span in which LouCity went undefeated in 10 consecutive league meetings. That included the previously noted Eastern Conference Final showdown in which Indy’s dream of hosting the USL Championship Final was snatched away at the death by Antoine Hoppenot for Indy.

No longer.

Indy has won the past two editions of the LIPAFC, taking three wins to LouCity’s two in the past seven meetings, and while Louisville has the upper hand in this year’s edition after a 1-0 win at Michael A. Carroll Stadium earlier this season, Saturday’s game could provide another major chapter between the clubs.

3. Southern Harm – Birmingham Legion FC vs. Memphis 901 FC

Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC's rivalry has hit the ground running thanks to established supporters groups and memorable contests. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC

Series Record in USL Championship: BHM 5 wins, MEM 3 wins, Draws 4

The Story: The important thing to know about Southern Harm is it predates Legion FC and 901 FC. The two supporters’ groups – The Magic City Brigade in Birmingham and Bluff City Mafia in Memphis – have been hating each other prior to 2019, when the two teams joined the USL Championship side by side, while backing clubs in the pre-professional ranks.

That’s what makes this maybe the most underrated rivalry in America. On top of that, after some early wobbles for Memphis, it’s delivered and then some in the on-field series. No-one who saw it is going to forget Memphis’ remarkable comeback at AutoZone Park in 2021, capped by Raul Gonzalez incredible scissor-kick in stoppage time.

The competitiveness of both teams in the past two seasons – which seems built to last on both sides – has taken this rivalry to the next level. It’s absolutely worth your attention every year. 

4. Copa Tejas – San Antonio FC vs. El Paso Locomotive FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC

Rio Grande Valley FC and San Antonio FC have battled each other since the 2016 season, with the South Texas Derby now integral to Copa Tejas. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC

Copa Tejas Titles – San Antonio FC 1, El Paso Locomotive FC 1, Rio Grande Valley FC 0

The Story: You could make a good argument for the South Texas Derby between San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC as one of the best in the league, but the Copa Tejas has become the prize every team in the Lonestar State has prized since it began in 2019 when Austin Bold FC took the inaugural trophy.

Subsequent victories for El Paso Locomotive FC (2021) and San Antonio FC (2022) have added to the competitiveness between the three sides currently competing for the trophy, and you only had to watch the intensity of the two clashes between Locomotive FC and SAFC already this season to see how big these games have become in the bigger picture of the league landscape.

We’ve still got three more games to go before this year’s winner is decided as SAFC and the Toros play their home-and-home series after this Saturday’s contest between RGV FC and El Paso at H-E-B Park. With the history it’s already built, this series is built for the long run.

5. Sacramento Republic FC vs. Oakland Roots SC

Sacramento Republic FC and Oakland Roots SC have been hard to separate over their first eight league contests. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

Series Record in USL Championship: SAC 2 wins, OAK 1 win, Draws 5

The Story: Sacramento Republic FC had some memorable battles with Orange County SC, Reno 1868 FC and the LA Galaxy II – Miracle at Bonney, anyone? – but the arrival of Oakland Roots SC in the Championship provided something for both fanbases to dig into.

What aided that was the parity that the newcomer Roots SC immediately brought to the series. For their first three meetings, the sides ended in draws before Oakland claimed the first win in the series to close the 2021 campaign.

Sacramento has won its first two games in the series in the past two meetings, ending a six-game run without a win to start. The arrival of Monterey Bay F.C., however, could set up for something bigger to come in NorCal in years to come.

6. Charleston Battery vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have squared off 28 times in the USL Championship era, with the series between the clubs stretching into the 2000s. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Series Record in USL Championship: CHS 10 wins, PIT 6 wins, Draws 12

The Story: Some rivalries are defined by proximity. The battles between the Charleston Battery and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC are defined by history. The two longest-standing clubs currently in the USL Championship bring that to the table every time they play, most recently last weekend at Patriots Point.

At this point, the Battery and the Hounds have played more matches against each other than they have any other in the league, and while there hasn’t necessarily been a defining moment that could sum up the series, the manner in which it has endured season by season is very much worth celebrating.

7. Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Miami FC 

The Tampa Bay Rowdies have held the upper hand over Florida rivals Miami FC since the latter joined the USL Championship in 2020. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Series Record in USL Championship: TBR 8 wins, MIA 3 wins, Draws 1

The Story: Welcome to the series with potential, but not much payoff yet. This series had a brief flirtation before the Rowdies joined the USL Championship in the 2017 season, but after Miami joined them in 2020 it’s been a steady run of Tampa Bay success.

Last year’s playoff victory continued that for Tampa Bay, and this year’s early-season win at Al Lang Stadium has the Rowdies in the driver’s seat to claim the 2023 edition of the series as well.


What we’re hoping to see emerge next

- Nutmeg vs. Ocean: When Rhode Island FC joins the USL Championship next season, the rivalry with Hartford Athletic should be a given. We’re looking forward to seeing how it develops with the clubs side by side in bordering states.

- Rust Belt Rivalry: We’ve only had three editions of this contest so far in the USL Championship, but given the backgrounds of the two cities – and the strength of the two supporters’ groups – the potential is clear. You could even have The Rust Belt as the trophy.  

- NorCal Triangle Series: We’ve seen supporters groups get together to organize before – just look at the Copa Tejas or the dearly missed Four Corners Cup. Seeing something fan-originated that pulls together Sacramento Republic FC, Monterey Bay F.C. and Oakland Roots SC would be exciting.

- USL Jacksonville & Coastal Cup: In the same way, USL Jacksonville’s arrival in the next few years could be the ideal moment for the return of the Coastal Cup. Jacksonville, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Miami FC could become a good Sunshine State series to enjoy.

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