The Portland Timbers come to Seattle. The Cascadia Rivalry comes to America. The rumble you feel is not Mt Hood, or Mt Rainier ready to blow, like St Helens. That is the sound of Timbers coming to Qwest Field, for a nationally televised match with Sounders FC. When Rose City meets Rave Green this Saturday, it’s no ordinary Spring Garden Show.
Calling out for national attention, this clash between Portland and Seattle is hosted by Major League Soccer. For a show stopping spectacle, look past the match on the pitch to the supporters in the stands. Both clubs colorfully fervent supporters promise displays not common to any usual American sport. If you own an H-D with 3-D, ultra intense vibration, surround sound-mega-TV, then this match is custom made for your home viewing pleasure. Either that, or be there.
Hey, you like our coffee. You use our technology at work and home, even on the go. You order our wine. You enjoy our diverse taste in food. You download our music. And now you love our TV show, Portlandia. A second season is on its way. Now come try our soccer.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.
Saturday night’s match introduces the three-way Pacific Northwest rivalry to America’s growing Major League Soccer television audience. Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Seattle Sounders form a rivalry brewing since Seattle and Vancouver formed in 1974, with Portland a year later. Neighborly soccer ended in only the fourth match between Portland and Seattle on August 12, 1975. In a playoff match in Portland, with 31,523 soccer passionate fans a taste of everything to come spilled onto the pitch. Tied 1-1, the teams went to overtime. Portland earned a corner that Seattle defended but couldn’t clear. Portland worked the ball out to the left flank, where it was crossed into the top of the penalty box meeting a leaping Timber, who arched it in for a game winning header. Announcers barely had time to call the winning goal when fans began spilling onto the field in celebration. Thirty-six years later the passion is not only still brewing, it’s about to start a new chapter in US Soccer History. Anticipation for this weekends match has become national attention more for the passion spilled into the stands as the play on the pitch.
The Pacific Northwest regional rivalry was named, Cascadia Cup in 2004. The history of the rivalry itself dates to the clubs first meeting, May 2nd, 1975. What makes the rivalry unique? Large, consistent numbers of passionate supporters. Seattle’s attendance averaged 16,830 in 1975 while the entire 2010 MLS average was 16,675.
All three teams originally formed in the NASL (North American Soccer League). It was not structured and ran as well as Major League Soccer, but it had many big-time names. The most notable player in NASL history was one of the most notable in soccer history. Pele.
Less Pele and more Levesque.
The NASL folded in 1984, but Pacific Northwest soccer continued. Sometimes from comedic creativity. Club names like Stars and Seadogs played in various types of leagues from indoor to speed soccer. Yet Timbers and Sounders never faded away.
In 1994 the Sounders were on the doorstep of joining the inaugural Major League Soccer season. One issue preventing that was the perceived conflict of having two teams named “Sounders” playing in both an A-League and MLS status. Many people talked about the relationship like a “farm club”. The idea was rejected. Interesting note: MLS added a Reserve League for 2011. From 1994 to 2008, Seattle played in A-League/USL-1 soccer leagues winning 4 championships. Brian Ching and Marcus Hahnemann are two notable players during that era. Yet one name stands above all for assisting in the growing intensity of Saturday’s match. Levesque.
At the end of the 2007 season with Seattle in process to move to Major League Soccer, Roger took a short exhibition stint with Vancouver and Portland. His one game with Portland brimmed with animosity. Fans “booed” him every time he touched the ball. Sending the message to Timbers owner, Merritt Paulson that he was not a real Timber. “True Fans Hate Levesque” read the banner hanging over the rail of the Timbers Army.
Strong words for a player known as one of the hardest working players in MLS today. Did he intentionally kick a fallen Timbers keeper in the face in 2003? Did he kick warm-up shots into the stands where Timbers Army supporters stood? I asked Timber fans. I have yet to have two similar answers. What I know for certain, Levesque scores goals against Timbers. Most notable is his 2009 US Open Cup goal scored in the first minute. After scoring on Portland, Levesque ran to Sounders teammate Nate Jaqua, who proceeded to chop him down and fall to ground. A third Sounder joined the choreographed celebration and along with Jaqua carried Roger away like cut lumber. Timbers supporters haven’t forgotten the celebration on their home pitch. How does that one song go? ”R-E-S-P-E-C-T”? Or, is it R-E-V-E-N-G-E?
There were no Timbers Army or ECS (Emerald City Supporters) in 1975. But there were large volumes of fans. Fans, like yours truly, ready to promote this unique American rivalry into a third generation.
There may be no recipe for making soccer fans out of sports fans, but there is a recipe for being a soccer fan. Start with a pint of any preference. A simple recipe includes drums, rhythmic clapping, a hint of sulfur infused smoke, sparkling flares layered with a guttural wash of continuous chanting. Add *tifo and the scene is complete.
The first Super Bowl I paid attention to was Super Bow XIII, in 1979 between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. I watched sitting next to my Granddad in his TV room. He was a huge Cowboys fan. He had to be. He was a rancher boy from Texas.
Growing up, when the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks played everything stopped. All you could do was make plans with friends and family to see the game. Climbing Mt Hood or Mt Rainier were the only alternative activities. Every game was close. Never a clear favorite. Season records never mattered when the Seahawks faced the Raiders. Intensity and national ratings were always high. It’s how a rivalry should be. It’s only about one game. It’s “all in”. Chips only come in two values. Complete exhilaration or pure disappointment.
Rivalry passion is at the core of every sports fan. You can love whatever game it is, with whomever is playing all you want, and feel neutral for your passion towards every great player and every exciting team. That is, until your Granddad, spouse, friend. local grocery clerk, bar tender, boss, or guy on the bus asks you the one hardest question. ”Who’s your team?” There is no New York Red Sox, or Boston Yankees. You ultimately pick one. And your answer defines you. Pick the right team and the grocery clerk says, “the ice-cream is on me”. You receive hugs and high-fives. Pick the other team, and find the nearest exit.
This is jargon you’ve read a thousand times before with teams from New York, LA, Dallas, Boston/New England and many more. So, isn’t it time to try something new. Add a new rivalry to the collection of great American sports rivalries.
Classic Greek Theatre
Are you Rave Green, or are you Rose City? Whose chorus do you belong?
Yes, this answer defines you forever. Like a marriage proposal to the gods, it doesn’t force your hand to become a sports fan, if that’s not your thing, but it evokes a curious nuance of life that lifts the soul, and lets you experience an event with the greatest commitment of spirit. For 90 minutes there is no recession, no Afghanistan, no hedge fund scammers, and no terrorist insurgents. The decision will lift your soul to something bigger than sport. Your living and dying on every shot transcends normal behavior. Your vaulted, vocal prayers and spirited hand waving burns calories and energizes your hopeful team to defeat the evil others. Then, when the match is over, depending on the result, you boast your mighty brilliance or muse the conspiracies of ridiculous and underserved defeat. Then you go home. A few Sunday chores and your mind turns to the workweek ahead.
The beautiful thing about a rivalry, you don’t have to wait too long until it comes back again.
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Terms & Notes
*Tifo - Tifo is a simple Italian term for banners or flags hung or waved by supporters at designated stadium sections, specific to sporting events.
*ECS – Emerald City Supporters. Largest Sounders FC official Supporters Group. Additional Note: I joined in 2010. For the 2009 inaugural season I was independent of any supporters group choosing an individual team identity and relationship before joining.
*Timbers Army – aka TA, is official Supporters Group of the Portland Timbers.
© 2011 by Ryan J Sales