On October 10, 2010, Vancouver Whitecaps FC eliminated the Portland Timbers – in Portland – from the USL playoffs for the second straight year.
In almost any other rivalry in the world, that result would have been grounds for a lot of grumbling and frustration. But the mood among Timbers fans that night was buoyant, even celebratory. Next season, they knew, their team would finally play in Major League Soccer.
Traveling members of the Southsiders, one of the Whitecaps' major supporters groups, joined members of the Timbers Army at the familiar Bitter End bar for a night of celebration. In 2011, the Whitecaps, too, would join MLS right alongside the Timbers. This was a time for revelry, both fans knew, not a time for old grievances.
“It was this epic night of camaraderie and scarf trading and trading chants and it at least felt like the night that it became a friendly rivalry instead of a heated rivalry,” recalls Timbers fan Matthew Lindley. “A brotherhood was felt that night that really cemented what the rivalry is now.”
Each matchday, that rivalry reaches its greatest intensity, as fans of both teams live and die with the results on the field. Sunday presents the next chapter as the Timbers host Whitecaps FC at Providence Park as part of MLS’ Heineken Rivalry Week (1:30pm PT, ESPN). But when the referee blows his final whistle, the friendships that have formed between Timbers and Whitecaps fans – friendships that have only deepened in the years since that 2010 playoff game – go on much like they always had.
“For me, it looks like now it's 90 minutes, that's when we really hate each other,” says Southsiders president Peter Czimmermann. “But outside of that we're almost friends...I know not everybody shares this kind of friendliness, but it's there and it's healthy.”
Czimmermann, a native of Hungary who moved to Canada in 2007, says that this kind of friendliness with a rival club and its supporters – he describes the current rivalry as “overly friendly” – has been something that he's had to adjust to.
“One other thing I have to learn is we have that Canadian friendliness and welcoming spirit which, as the group grew, kind of overcame the more hardcore support,” he explains. “So I think that's part of it. It didn't come naturally for me, but I got used to it.”
However, the friendships between members of the supporters groups can only partly explain why these two rival teams – teams that have dashed one another's playoff hopes since the 1970s and as recently as last season when the Timbers knocked off the Caps in Vancouver on the road to the 2015 MLS Cup – have never had the same rivalry on the level of Portland-Seattle.
This may be down to simple geography, explains NASL-era Whitecap and current Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi.
“Geographically, we're close, but we are in Canada [and] we happen to have Seattle in between us,” he says. “I think we're just part of the Northwest hub of the game, but I'm not sure that we've done anything to be really disliked other than maybe get a few results when it would be preferred that we didn't. I think we're close enough [to have a rivalry] but we're far enough away [to keep it friendly].
“And we're Canadian,” he adds.
Czimmermann concurs, pointing out that the two cities' proximity to Seattle and distance from one another has led to the kinds of friendships found between Whitecaps and Timbers supporters.
“The distance [between Vancouver and Portland] is a lot more than just a two-hour drive,” he notes. “It's a more serious commitment going down to the games...you usually have to do overnight trips into Portland, which gives you more time to meet up with others [so] you are in their town drinking either the night before or on the day [of the match] and there's no way to avoid contact.
“Where in Seattle it's possible to just go down and get right back after the game.”
For Lindley, distance explains precisely why both the Whitecaps and the Timbers share a mutual dislike of that other Cascadia club. Since both teams joined MLS in 2011, Sounders FC have been the one constant that's united the two fan bases.
“If there's a mutual foe you hate more, sometimes you band together in your hatred of that foe and I think that's certainly what happens with Vancouver fans and Timbers fans,” Lindley says. “We definitely want to see Vancouver beat Seattle when they play them, even a couple years ago when it meant we probably wouldn't make the playoffs if they beat Seattle.
“There was a lot of arguing back and forth between Timbers fans all week of like, do we want to see Seattle lose or do we want to see our playoff hopes kept alive? It was kind of astonishing how many people would rather see Vancouver beat Seattle even thought it would really hurt our chances to make the playoffs than they would ever like to see Seattle win a match.”
This Sunday, though, it will be all about Portland-Vancouver as the “friendly” rivalry continues.