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After many encounters, the Trillium Cup rivalry means something

On Nov. 21st the rivalry is renewed, but with much bigger stakes.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

What comes to mind when you think of North American Soccer rivalries?

Do you think of fierce Cascadia competition between the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders? How about the Atlantic Cup between New York Red Bulls and D.C. United?

Is Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC even an afterthought? Well, maybe it will be.

Since the inception of the Trillium Cup, fans of Crew SC and Toronto laughed off the so called “rivalry,” saying it felt manufactured. Major League Soccer hoped to jump start a hatred between two regional neighbors. Columbus were the battle-tested MLS originals and TFC the flashy expansion team that needed to find an adversary and establish legitimacy quickly.

The rivalry made sense as Columbus was the closest road trip for Toronto supporters until Montreal joined the league in 2012.

The Trillium Cup gets its name from the Trillium, a wildflower that is native to the Canadian province of Ontario and also the state of Ohio. Other names like “The Great Lakes Cup” and “The Buck-Loonie” were also considered but the Trillium Cup was made official by the supporters.

The rivalry began in 2008, Toronto’s second year in MLS competition.

The upstart expansion team fired an opening salvo when 2,500 rabid TFC supporters made their way to MAPFRE Stadium for the inaugural meeting of the rivalry. Columbus won that match by a score of 2-1 and earned a draw in the second and third contests to take home the first Trillium Cup.

Crew SC held the trophy from 2008-2011, winning by an aggregate score of 12-7. You could say it wasn’t much of a rivalry and you would be right.

Toronto finally broke through in 2011 to claim the team’s first Trillium Cup. The Black & Gold began another run to win the Cup in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

However momentum shifted towards TFC, with an influx of cash and talent, as the northerners won the Trillium Cup three of the next four years, including recent victories in 2016 and 2017.

The biggest matchup between Columbus and Toronto is on the horizon, as both sides prepare to square off for in the most important match in the rivalry’s history.

After tremendously disappointing result in the MLS Cup Final last season, Toronto was the class of MLS, finding a way to the top of the Eastern Conference and never looking back in route to winning the club’s first Supporter’s Shield.

Standing in the way of TFC is a hungry and emboldened Crew SC. The Black & Gold are a team that have evolved since the two teams last met in late May and the confidence has grown.

Although Toronto captured the Cup in 2017, Columbus made a host of personnel and tactical changes and are ready to make a series of the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the first time in what feels like forever — although it’s only been 10 years — Toronto FC and Columbus Crew SC compete in a game that matters, one that should create the type of emotion that natural rivalries are made of. Not the kind MLS creates.

When the two teams meet on Nov. 21 and again eight days later, the Trillium Cup will not be on the line -- TFC already won that. Instead, it will be the Eastern Conference crown and, for the winner, a right to host the MLS Cup Final for the second time in a short span.

The pressure and competition will ramp up. This is where rivalries are born.