Editor's Note: With the Portland Timbers hosting the Seattle Sounders at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday in a Cascadia Cup clash (Presented by PGE; 2:00pm PT, ESPN, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940), we're taking a look throughout the week at some of the memorable moments that have occured over the near 40-year history of the Portland-Seattle soccer rivalry.
Moment #4: A 2001 USL franchise debut home opener renews the Portland-Seattle rivalry
It was the start of a new chapter in Portland Timbers history. On May 11, 2001, the Timbers returned to the pitch in the Rose City, playing their home opener as a United Soccer Leagues franchise at a newly upgraded PGE Park—now JELD-WEN Field.
For the fans of Soccer City, USA, it had been almost 20 years since the Timbers’ final NASL season and it had been since 1990 that the Timbers of the Western Soccer League last took the field. A memorable night for fans and players alike, a spirited crowd of 12,295 at PGE Park witnessed the resurgence of a passionate Northwest rivalry as the Timbers downed the Seattle Sounders 2-0 that spring night.
With first-half goals from standout striker Mark Baena and defender Brent Sancho; icon Timber Jim, in his return pitch side, did not have to wait long to put his chainsaw back to work cutting log slabs. And on the other end of the field in the backline was Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson—then a defender—leading Portland to its first shutout of the 2001 season.
“I think coming into that game, you get a little bit of a sense that we were a new team coming into a town that hadn’t had soccer for a while,” remembered Wilkinson (above, numbered #5).
“Basically, to see the passion that erupted within that first game was an inkling of what it is now but it was still a great insight into what the rivalry actually meant to both cities.”
While it was the first A-League meeting between the Timbers and Sounders, the two clubs had long produced intense encounters over the years in the NASL and WSL. And the scar on Wilkinson’s chin from that first USL win over Seattle would prove that the years to come in North America’s second division would be no different.
“That was just going up for a challenge and getting an elbow. It was something you expect but it starts to bring out the meaning of the rivalry when there’s blood on the field,” said Wilkinson.
“Suddenly you’re bleeding and everyone else’s intensity starts to increase and the next tackle becomes an important one. The result means everything.”
It was the first of many battles for Wilkinson and the Timbers against the Sounders up and down I-5 during the clubs’ USL eras. From 2001-08, the two rivals met nearly 40 times, including two matchups in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, each match stoking the fire of one of the longest-standing rivalries in North American soccer.
“The rivalry is basically for bragging rights. In every way,” he said.
“It’s full of intensity. It’s full of emotion. It’s a battle. I think any rivalry in the world where you have passionate fans and you care about the product on the field, it spills over. It’s going to be full of emotion for fans and for players.”