With the Portland Timbers hosting the Seattle Sounders for the first home match in their MLS history on Sunday (1:00pm PT, ESPN, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM), we reached out to a collection of former Timbers players who had the honor of playing in these historic rivalry clashes.
First up is one-time Timbers forward Roger Goldingay. Goldingay was born in Leicester, England and played one season for the NASL Seattle Sounders in 1974 before appearing in a total of 15 games for the Timbers in the 1975 and 1976 seasons. A North Portland resident and longtime friend of Trailblazer great Bill Walton, Roger is now heavily involved in property management in local neighborhoods and helped pioneer a gathering of food carts located on N. Mississippi Avenue.
Though Goldingay's soccer days are long past, his love of the Timbers was rekindled while attending the home opener against the Chicago Fire. Said Goldingay, "I had disassociated myself from soccer for many years, but I realized immediately that the Timbers-Sounders rivalry would always be the biggest games of the season. I cried through most of the [Chicago] game."
Name your most memorable Portland vs. Seattle rivalry moment from playing for either team.
My most memorable moment came in the 1975 playoffs when Tony Betts scored the Timbers’ sudden death overtime goal at Civic stadium in front of over 31,000 fans. The players and coaches all ran on to the field to celebrate and we were rapidly followed by thousands of fans in a complete frenzy. Beating Seattle put us in the semifinals, where we beat St. Louis and then lost the Soccer Bowl Championship Final against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
To understand the tension and impact of this critical moment, you need to know what came before. It was our fourth game against the Sounders that year. They were our opponent for the first game of the inaugural season (May 2, 1975) in Civic Stadium. Over 8,000 fans, many of them viewing their first live professional soccer game, stood in a torrential downpour lasting the entire match. Even though we lost 1-0 and the rain continued unabated, we did a victory lap applauding these freshly dedicated converts to the “Beautiful Game.” It was the start of a tradition that continues today.
We played the Sounders again at Civic Stadium a scant 10 weeks later. However, those original 8,000 fans had grown to a phenomenal, raucous 27,000+ fans, and the entire city shut down to watch the game on TV. The stadium was filled way over capacity and management was scrambling to find a way to pack in even more. Bleachers were brought in and fans were sitting a few feet from the sidelines with no barriers or security keeping them from the field. It was a pretty intimidating experience for the visiting Sounders and we beat them 2-1. Almost as intimidating as the San Jose Earthquakes road game when they let a Bengal tiger on a 50-foot leash out on the field during our warm up.
Our third game against the Sounders was played in Seattle's Memorial Stadium with a capacity of only 17,000. However, it appeared that every seat had been sold twice. We were tied at 2-2 in regulation, then lost when John Rowlands scored a lucky header off a throw in. Rowlands was a particularly crude player and Seattle had been getting hometown calls the entire game. At one point, Rowlands put Graham Day in a headlock and wrestled him to the ground inside the Sounders’ penalty area. One of the worst non-calls I have ever seen. Vic Crowe, our head coach, was furious, and only enraged further by the mob of Seattle fans abusing us as we walked towards the locker room after the game. I had to drag him away from wading into the crowd and taking them on one at a time.
This set up the atmosphere for the critical playoff game, 90 minutes of intense action and overtime to settle the score. It was all on the line - civic pride, personal achievement, careers, lives, limbs and fortunes were riding on that game. Sudden death overtime? Perfect!
Where do you think this rivalry ranks among other sporting rivalries in the U.S.? In the world?
Red Sox-Yankees, Lakers-Celtics, Godzilla against the World.
To what extent did you, as a player, dislike your rivals?
Having played for the Seattle Sounders in their inaugural season, I considered many of them to be good friends. I was mainly angry at the coach and management for cutting me from the Seattle squad. I played the last game of the season for the Sounders with a cracked rib that was injected with painkillers. After a brutal foul in the second half dislocated my shoulder, I continued playing. My contract ended when the season was over.
But as the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. I have learned over the years that keeping your head while others are losing theirs is an important attribute to maintain in stressful situations. And playing professional soccer at that elite level is certainly one of those.
Was there a moment when you realized this rivalry surpassed all others in terms of how much it mattered to the fan base?
That moment came to me this year watching the Timbers Army in the opening game of the new MLS franchise. Their enthusiasm and love for the sport, the history that preceded it, the long struggles of dozens of players, management and owners to rejuvenate professional soccer in Portland--all of it was made worthwhile watching the passion of those fans. I had disassociated myself from soccer for many years, but I realized immediately that the Timbers-Sounders rivalry would always be the biggest games of the season. I cried through most of the game.
Describe your first Portland vs. Seattle rivalry game.
It was an eerie experience, even though I didn't play in the game. It was the first Timbers game ever, and it just happened to be against my old team, the Seattle Sounders. I had walked on to the inaugural Sounders club as a local kid in 1974. The first Seattle Sounders game in 1974 and the first Portland Timbers game in 1975 were almost identical. Both occurred in a torrential downpour. Both teams got off the plane from England just a couple of days before their first game. Both teams played in front of a small crowd fell immediately and deeply in love with the team. Both teams lost, but you knew something deeply passionate had happened, not just to the players but to the cities.
I remember thinking that even though we lost to Seattle in that first game, my new teammates were pretty darn good. Only together a couple of days, we had given the Sounders a real run for their money. We would just get better and better. Later in the season, Vic Crowe let it slip that he thought we were as good as an English First Division club. As the first American to play for Timbers, that meant a lot to me.
Do you think the rivalry has increased in intensity since your playing days, or does it maintain the same level of passion that it did in the past? Where does the rivalry go from here?
I don't think it could be any more intense than it was in the first couple of years, but I have occasionally been wrong before. It was certainly the most intense rivalry I have ever been involved in. The Timbers Army and the fan base in Portland is one of the most amazing I have seen in sports. Their enthusiasm, passion and creativity is just extraordinary. And I have been on the floor at Celtics, Lakers and Blazers NBA Finals, the Olympic Games, and tennis Grand Slams.
What one word would you use to describe the rivalry, and why?
Magical. Creating this kind of intensity drives human beings to perform at levels beyond comprehension. It is what draws us to sport in the first place, when mortal humans perform feats beyond their capability, when ordinary men and women take flight.
(David Lieberman and Rob Morse contributed to this article.)