From The Inside: A View From the Emerald City

Prost Amerika's Steve Clare on NW rivalry

Sal Zizzo - Timbers vs. Sounders, Cascadia Summit, 3.5.11

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Editor's Note: With the Portland Timbers heading north to take on the Seattle Sounders in continuation of a decades-long soccer rivalry, we decided to reach out to get some insight from inside the enemy camp. Steve Clare is the Editor of prostamerika.com, a website based in Seattle and devoted to Northwest soccer. A witness to many Portland-Seattle battles, Clare takes a look at the scope of the rivalry and where it can go from here. Tomorrow, Clare will give a sneak peek into the Sounders camp and see where we might gain an advantage.

Finally the moment has arrived. It is the moment many have been waiting for since the fixture list was published. For many more, the Seattle Sounders v Portland Timbers match on Saturday, May 14 (8:00 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 95.5 The Game, La Pantera 940 AM), signals the end of an even longer wait. For a writer and fan like myself, who has watched derbies in many cities in various countries, there will of course be the temptation to make comparisons. However, as a Seattle-based writer who has covered these matches since the USL, this is very special. It's not new, but it is far from business as usual.

On Saturday, two footballing rivers will confluence. The first is Major League Soccer. The second river is that of a rivalry between two cities that extends beyond soccer .

Portland and Seattle may be rivals in culture, music, fashion and second most importantly, brewing; but the rivalry between its soccer clubs is as fierce as any of those.

It is not a manufactured rivalry either. Sounders fans don’t want to beat Portland because a slick ad campaign told them so. Many people I have spoken to recall past battles, and this being soccer, past battles invariably involve egregious injustices in which the side followed by the person you are speaking to was always the victim.

But it would also be easy to overstate the rivalry between the fans and allow writing to meander away from the reality for dramatic effect. The two cities are rivals but this is not like Liverpool and Manchester, Swansea and Cardiff or Madrid and Barcelona. The city rivalry is politer, and more sprinkled with good natured humor. This is the Pacific Northwest after all.

We have a Cup which the three sides battle for the Cascadia Cup. It is awarded to the fans and I stress that, fans, of the side that wins a mini league table between Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. The winning players are allowed to hold it aloft, for a while, but it belongs with the fans whose team retains it.

That is unusual and gives rise to shall we say, certain cultural oddities. I was there in a Vancouver bar when the cup befell a mishap while in the possession of Timbers fans. It was accidental and I will vouch for all present, but for a brief period, there was this frisson of fear that everyone might be in trouble. Then it was recalled, the Cup belongs to the fans. There was nobody to be angry at them.

Talk to anybody in Seattle about that however, and they will tell you the only unusual part was that Timbers fans actually possess it. For the last two years, only Portland and Vancouver have contested it because of Seattle being in a different league. Sounders fans are quick to remind you that the Timbers are yet to win it in a year when all three sides compete for it. You can imagine how much Sounders fans enjoy repeating that one.

Current Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller once caused a riot by saving a Chelsea penalty in a cup tie against his then club Millwall in a shoot out. There was some significant crowd disorder thereafter. The unfortunate penalty taker was none other than Timbers head coach John Spencer. Do Sounders possess some mystical psychological advantage because of an event 16 years ago in London? Probably not, but it illustrates a core theme that makes this derby so different in US Soccer.

We have a past. We have a trove of history from which to draw. Kasey Keller and John Spencer arrived at their respective clubs with their own hinterland.

And the two clubs which welcomed them have a hinterland too.

MLS would love to recreate this across the country.

If the rest of North America wants to recreate what we have here, then the best way is time. Time perhaps assisted by capturing passions of existing rivalries in other sports like the Yankees and the Red Sox. There are some good local rivalries already in MLS, but they are twenty years behind Cascadia and I feel should be allowed to flourish naturally. I too wish there was a shortcut but I just can't see one, although the internet era may shave some years off how long it will take.

Enough of the past. This brings me to the last imponderable. What is the future of this particular rivalry? Where can it go?

There are two answers. One is obvious, the other a dream. The obvious one is that the sport can spread even deeper into the fabric of both cities until every citizen is glued to the television on game day. In both cities, the clubs have a willing army of evangelists waiting to talk Sounders or Timbers to the uninitiated. This fervor was partly the reason MLS decided to dip back into the Cascadian well for the 17th and 18th sides. The two cities soccer sides can be the standard bearers for their cities' sporting pride.

But here's another vision. Remember when I said, we didn't have the cultural (and political) baggage of city rivalry that Madrid and Barcelona bring to their games?

There is one thing they have which I sincerely envy; which I would love to see in North America. When those sides play, two things happen.

Firstly, their matches invariably reflect the top of the table. The result affects the battle for top honors.

Secondly, and this is the true vision. Most people in Spain, regardless of their own club affinities, tune in to watch. It is a national occasion. Many adopt one side or the other for the day.

Everyone has a blazing sunshine on the horizon into which they can barely peek with eyes squinting. That is mine for the Cascadia derby. A national occasion. The first game the national cable channels mark down for live coverage. Fans across the nation adopting one side or the other for the day. Please add in the Whitecaps embodying Canadian soccer pride to make these occasions six times a year rather than two.

As for my prediction?

You have to know me to drag that one out of me. But I know who's going to win. Really. I do. I have a crystal ball which looks into the past.

Steve Clare is Editor of prostamerika.com, which covers football in Cascadia. He is also the Communications Officer of the North American Soccer Reporters which selects the MLS players of the Week.