The Path North: A Supporter Talks About His Experience Inside The Cascadian Rivalry

Remembering the clashes from the USL era

Timbers Army heading to Qwest, 2004

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Allison Andrews / SoccerCityUSA.com

Editor’s Note: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders. It's a match-up that generates intense feelings on both sides and a rivalry that is tough to beat. We reached out to longtime Timbers Army member Kip Kesgard to talk about his experiences on road trips to Seattle to follow his Timbers during the USL era. Kesgard, also a writer for Oregonlive.com, has been sitting in the North End since 2004.

Timbers fans have been circling May 14, 2011, on their calendars since MLS published their official schedule back in February. There is something special about a Seattle – Portland soccer match (8:00 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 95.5 The Game, La Pantera 940 AM), and now soccer fans throughout the world will get a chance to watch this derby unfold. This also begins the official renewal of the Cascadia Cup, a rotating cup awarded annually to the Cascadia club that earns the most points from matches between Portland, Seattle, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The idea took flight in 2004 during discussions between members of each team’s supporters groups, the Emerald City Supporters, the Southsiders in Vancouver, and Timbers Army. Supporters put possessing the Cascadia Cup at seasons end alongside other significant accomplishments like winning a title or making a deep playoff run.

However, while many are new to this rivalry, there’s actually been a deep history of sometimes friendly, but often contentious matches between the three teams, especially the two U.S. based clubs. There’s been over at least 74 matches have been played between the Timbers and Sounders in three separate leagues before 2011, with soccer being the tip of the iceberg in the two cities competitions with each other.

Before I became a member of the Timbers Army, I never had any issues with Seattle often traveling there for various reasons. Things changed dramatically when I made my first road trip north in 2004 during the first round of a home and home series in the A-League playoffs. Going into the series as one of the better teams in the league that year, Portland had taken a hard fought, emotional victory against the Sounders at home, 2 to 1. All they needed to do in order to advance was at least draw with the Sounders in the second leg and they would advance. Sometimes the simplest tasks are the most difficult to accomplish.

The Timbers appeared to be brimming with confidence coming into the next match, but then Sounders forward Welton Melo scored early, and the complexion of the match changed. Being relatively new to the Army, I found myself investing more and more in the support of the Timbers, imploring them to score in regular time to win the series. Unfortunately, the match ended at 1 to 0, requiring both sides to play extra time when Melo broke the hearts of the Timbers faithful with a goal early in extra time, and the Sounders fans celebrated like they’d won a league title. It was a very difficult drive home that night, as my friends and I replayed every nuance of the match over and over again, hoping in recollection the result might turn out differently. I knew at this point I was hooked as a Timbers Army member, and above everything else, it was important to beat Seattle.

Throughout the years, there have been plenty of memories of this series that still resonate in my mind as if they happened yesterday. Many longtime fans still remember the 2007 U.S. Open Cup match in Tukwila where a Timbers side lost a player to a questionable red card infraction, and the home side never looked back in winning. In 2009 and 2010, the Timbers were hoping to make long runs in the Open Cup only to see their former USL-rival-then-darling-of-MLS win in the Rose City. However, the Timbers have enacted a bit of revenge, winning the first ever Sounders Community Shield match at Qwest Field in March 2010 by making a single goal by O.J. Obatola stand up for the win. The Timbers are even getting in on some early gamesmanship in this year’s match by wearing their Rose City Red kits for the first time in competition. This match will also be nationally televised, so even fans that can’t make the trip can enjoy the pageantry and spectacle that will unfold that evening.

For any rivalry to become truly legendary, you need a few basic ingredients: a group of quality teams, talented management and owners, passionate fans, and some legendary moments for supporters to ruminate over. In looking back over the years, the Portland – Seattle rivalry has certainly had plenty of events to push it to legendary status. I view Seattle as a rival, but I also know that they’ve accomplished a lot from the days of USL to become a force within MLS and those results deserve some acknowledgement. In that same vein, winning matches against a heated opponent with that history makes victory much more special when it does occur. For a shining moment, a result against a rival gives bragging rights until the next meeting, and often is enough to call a season successful.

Despite the setbacks over the years, I’m looking forward to this rekindled rivalry against Seattle with great anticipation. I’m sure it will produce plenty of moments—good and bad—possible heartbreak, and crazed adoration, but at the same time, it’s these kind of matches that make this matchup so special.