A showcase rivalry for the MLS?

Entering the third year of the Seattle Sounders FC in Major League Soccer, the objective is/was to compete and win the MLS Cup and defend the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. While those objectives are important and remain the biggest objectives, there is another objective that will define the third campaign of the Sounders FC.

That is beating the Portland and Vancouver.

With a history dating back to the days of the North American Soccer League, the Cascadia Rivalry (named after the Cascade Mountain range that goes from Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle, to Portland); the Pacific Northwest has been abuzz in anticipation now that each city has a football club in the top flight of soccer/football here in North America. In 2009 the Seattle Sounders FC set a new standard for how a team enters the league by the roar of 30 thousand strong at every home match. This year, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC entered Major League Soccer, giving new life to the Cascadia Rivalry.

I am a Seattle Sounders FC season ticket holder. It’s been one amazing investment as I have formed friendships through it, as well as memories you cannot put a price on. Being at the inaugural match in 2009 had an atmosphere that was simply indescribable. When the schedule for this season came out, all eyes were focused on May 14 when Portland Timbers came into Seattle, probably more so than the first match of the season, which was also the league-wide season opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Both matches were under the bright lights of the ESPN national spotlight. The first round of the Sounders FC/Timbers derby resulted in a 1 to 1 draw, but also gave the soccer/football community of North America, one of the greatest tifo displays ever, “Decades Of Dominance” created by the Emerald City Supporters, the biggest supporters group for the Seattle Sounders FC. The tifo got plenty of attention and praise as it was a clear indicator (as if the first two years the Sounders FC selling out and having an average attendance that doubled the league-wide average attendance wasn’t enough proof) that over here in Seattle, football was taken very seriously. After that match, I thought to myself, “Maybe I will look into getting tickets for the second round of the derby match down in Portland.” After a few months of searching and acquiring tickets and making the proper travel arrangements, I sit here just hours removed from the Sounders FC/Timbers match here in Portland, Oregon.

The Timbers Army, the biggest independent supporters group for the Portland Timbers had a tifo with a message that they were the king of clubs, and as such the centerpiece was a giant king of clubs playing card with a Portland Timbers scarf. The view from my seat in the stadium obstructed me from seeing the actual display as it was being raised, so the next best thing I could do was film their video screen on the south end of the stadium that showed the tifo being unveiled. When comparing the tifo the Timbers Army and the aforementioned “Decades Of Dominance” that the Emerald City Supporters produced, even if I wasn’t a Seattle Sounders FC supporter and a member of ECS, I would still say that the “Decades Of Dominance” wins in a total landslide. Seattle Sounder FC forward Roger Levesque agrees as well.

The match itself was an absolute thriller. Twice the Sounders FC were behind but came back to equalize, with the two goals put in by Sounders FC forward/striker Fredy Montero. Then after Timbers defender Eric Brunner literally put his boot on the shoulder of Sounders FC midfielder Lamar Neagle in the penalty box, central defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (the Sounders FC reigning team MVP) buried in a penalty kick in the 83rd minute which eventually became the game winner.  I along with my friends Lauren and Jessica arrived in Portland yesterday and as we walked around hours before the match today, there wasn’t any banter with Timbers supporters. Though I do remember during halftime just as I was leaving a concession stand with beer in hand, a Timbers supporter sees me and she says, “Wow, they served you people?” Looking back on how much ground we walked, how many Timbers supporters we ran into, it was rather disappointing in terms of rivalry banter. I mean it was literally that and the occasional, “Fuck you! Sounders fucking suck!” we heard. Even that obscenity was heard sparsely. Were they nervous because the adrenaline of being the new kid on the block wore off and the harsh reality of them being an expansion team was now in their system? Were they afraid of the Sounders FC who were on an unbeaten streak? Perhaps it was both, perhaps we got lucky and didn’t encounter the more rabid of supporters. Before the match we ran into fellow Sounders FC supporters and celebrated the unity of supporting the team, and after the match walking amongst dejected Timbers supporters, yes, we Sounders FC supporters soaked up the rewards of victory, the reward of three points. Jessica, Lauren, my friend Ryan along with his brother who met up with us at the stadium and me even made fun of one of the Timbers Army chants. The chant goes, “PT –clap clap- FC.” This is repeated a few times over. Obviously it means “Portland Timbers Football Club,” but I interpreted it as “Part Time Football Club.” I shared this observation within the group and they ate it up. So whenever the crowd started up that chant, though we were clearly outnumbered, we felt compelled to make a mockery of it. I’m sure the Timbers supporters did not find it amusing, but there weren’t any hostilities raised because of it. I’m certain if there were a few more Sounders FC supporters near us that we could’ve spread the word about our little twist on a Timbers Army chant, they would’ve joined us.

What made the victory more savoring was the fact that the Sounders FC had to come back twice before they could win it on the Alonso penalty kick, so as thrilling as it was to come into Portland and take the season series, it easily could’ve gone the other way. The Sounders FC supporters could’ve heading back to Seattle feeling the sting of defeat, while the Timbers supporters I’m positive would not have held back with their gloating of victory. However that was not the case. Under the ESPN national spotlight, (actually a worldwide spotlight, according to the voice of the Seattle Sounders FC Arlo White’s twitter) the Sounders FC and Timbers gave the MLS the hype, the environment, and the match that they could hang their hat on and say, “Yes, this is how we do derby matches.” The talk post-match about the atmosphere has been great with Sports Illustrated Peter King saying that MLS Commissioner Don Garber should move the league office to either Seattle or Portland because the area is definitely the hotbed for the world’s game here in North America. The trip was an amazing experience that I’m glad I was able to make happen for my friends. I can only imagine what it must be like on derby day when it’s say Barcelona and Real Madrid meeting on the schedule. Rangers and Celtic. Chelsea and Manchester United. The days leading up to the match it was nice that the players of both clubs understood that there was just something more to this than just another regular season match. Supporters of both clubs had in their objectives list that defeating the rivals that are three hours apart from each other is just as important (if not more) than having a successful campaign and lifting hardware at the end of it. The great cities of Seattle and Portland definitely take soccer/football seriously and I can see myself making a trip down to Portland for the Sounders FC/Timbers derby an annual thing because some things just have to be experienced in person.

At the end of the day, the MLS got the showcase rivalry they’ve been waiting for. Those outside North America have long wondered if we do take our soccer/football seriously; well look no further than the Seattle/Portland rivalry. Yes Vancouver is a part of the Cascadia Rivalry as well, but Seattle and Portland just has that something special, that intangible emotional factor that makes it more important. At the end of the day, the decades of dominance by Seattle continues on.

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