They have been struggling against each other for a decade now: the perennial champion San Diego Sockers and the Blast, the team that most often has tried to oust them from their throne.
They have hurled insults at one another and often worked as hard off the field as on to undermine each other's confidence. And, always, since their first meeting in the Major Soccer League championship series in the 1982-83 season, the Sockers have had their way.
"I figure I'm doing [them] a favor," Sockers coach Ron Newman said yesterday. "The longer we can hold out from them beating us, the better they'll feel when they finally do beat us."
Four times they've met for the title. Four times San Diego has won.
Tonight, they'll meet in the playoffs for the fifth time. But, this time, it is the best-of-seven semifinals. No one is sure what effect that change may have on the outcome.
"Getting ready for the playoffs has always meant thinking about San Diego," said Sockers midfielder and Baltimore native Tim Wittman, who played the previous nine seasons with Baltimore. "With the Blast, it was always: 'We've got to beat San Diego. We've got to beat San Diego.' It certainly isn't like that here.
"There is some urgency. We know we have to win, but it would be the same urgency no matter who we played. In Baltimore, when we played San Diego, we always made it out to be bigger than it was. I don't know if they're doing that this time. I only know that here we haven't had any long talks or any long anything."
Blast coach Kenny Cooper said he is trying not to let this series get out of hand.
He would not be drawn into controversy. He agreed with Wittman, that in the past there was too much pressure to win. But he said the emotions for this series are different.
"Everyone knows Ron Newman and his style," Cooper said. "The Sockers have always thrived on controversy, so we're not going to give them any and we're not going to listen to any. It's simply great to be here. They've got a good team, and they're all good-looking."
The pressure involved is nothing new to the Blast, which feels it has been in playoff games for the past two weeks just to qualify.
Certainly few thought the Blast would make it to postseason, though Wittman said, "I just had a feeling it was going to happen." And, certainly, no one can dispute the Blast's underdog status.
Blast playoff schedule
(Best of seven)
Tonight -- at San Diego, 10:35
Friday -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.
Tuesday -- at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
April 16 -- at Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
April 18 -- at Baltimore, 7:35 p.m.*
April 19 or 20 -- at San Diego, TBA*
April 21 -- at San Diego, 10:35 p.m.*
* -- if necessary