Jack Jewsbury provides a link. As does Lawrence Olum. But when two teams have only shared the same competitive space for eight years, the ties players like Michael Harrington, Chance Myers and other former Sporting Kansas City players provide can only go so far. A relationship between the Portland Timbers and Sporting certainly exists, but even the magical powers of USL legend Ryan Pore can only make up for so much.
Undeniably, though, there is history between the teams, from one of the best strikes Major League Soccer has seen to, perhaps, the most exciting Knockout Round match ever offered. Here are four dates that stand out in the history of Portland-Sporting battles ahead of Sunday's first leg of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship (4:30pm PT, FS1 | Presented by Oregon Lottery):
July 2, 2011 – The Bad First Date
It was four months into their MLS existence before the Timbers faced Sporting. By then, the new era of soccer in Kansas City was in full swing. Having rebranded from the Kansas City Wizards that winter, the team was in their second full season under head coach Peter Vermes, and they came to Portland with a seven-game unbeaten streak to show for it.
That quality turned the match in the first 20 minutes. A 15th-minute goal from striker C.J. Sapong built a lead that was doubled four minutes later my defender Aurelien Collin, who converted off a Matt Besler long throw for what would be the day’s winning goal. Although Portland head coach John Spencer had hoped for a response by dropping first XI mainstays Kenny Cooper and Jeremy Hall from the team’s starting lineup, the expansion Timbers fell, 2-1.
The day was not without memories for Timbers fans, though. Just before halftime, Darlington Nagbe scored his first professional goal, though to label it a mere goal would be deceiving in its understatement. Juggling with two touches after a set piece, cleared, fell to him just outside the Sporting penalty area, Nagbe unleashed a strike so pure that it hovered at its apex, fighting its own physics, before sailing into goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen’s upper-right corner.
The goal would go on to win MLS Goal of the Year and remains one of the most technically proficient displays we’ve seen in Major League Soccer.
April 21, 2012 – The record-snapping breakthrough
One of the loudest moments in Timbers’ MLS history at Providence Park came from a place of pure shock, given Sporting’s second visit to Goose Hollow came with a club-record seven-game winning streak. Compared to the plight of the second-year Timbers, who’d won only once in their season’s first six games, that created an obvious dynamic: SKC was heavily favored to extend their streak to eight. Yet when an unlikely collision in front of the North End produced the game’s only goal, a wave of shock burst from the supporters’ section, bounced off the wall of the Multnomah Athletic Club at the field’s opposite end, and back onto the field, creating an auditory explosion that’s rarely been replicated over the last eight years of soccer.
It wasn’t because the moment was important. It’s because the moment was shocking. When striker Kris Boyd blindly played a cross from the right flank toward Sporting’s far post in the 42nd minute, it felt destined to be dealt with easily, given no Timbers were within six yards of the ball. The pass would be cleared, all assumed, and a game that had largely been controlled by the visiting side would continue toward its inevitable, blue-shaded conclusion.
But while KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen moved calmly back across goal, having seen two teammates prepared to deal with the cross, defensive midfielder Julio César lifted his boot high, toward the area of teammate Chance Myers’ face. As César flew in, Myers ducked his head and cowered, allowing Boyd’s ball to go off his head and into a net Nielsen was unaware he had to protect.
As all three laid shocked near goal, the Timbers attack peeled away from goal, almost too shocked to break into a full celebration. Little did anyone know, that goal would hold up, allowing Portland’s 1-0 win to claim the team’s first triumph over Sporting.
October 3, 2015 – Another GotY moment
Though 2013’s Rose City arrival of head coach Caleb Porter saw an attacking explosion between the Timbers and Sporting (nine goals, combined, in the teams’ next two meetings), the dynamic evolved into what, for spectators, became a frustrating, stylistic détente. After losing twice and conceding six times in the teams’ first two competitive games after Porter’s hire (one in U.S. Open Cup), Sporting got the measure of the Timbers beginning on June 27, 2014, delivering four straight clean sheets and two victories in a 16-month window.
The last of those clean sheets came in a game that also produced another MLS Goal of the Year, albeit only after fans from both sides had to ensure successive 0-0 draws. That’s part of what made the goal Kristian Nemeth scored at Providence Park so shocking. In addition to being an outstanding individual effort, the goal broke a scoreless drought between the teams that had lasted for 287 minutes. All subjected to standoff after Portland-Sporting standoff received a modicum of compensation from the soccer gods.
It was nowhere close to Nagbe’s goal four years before, but that’s a pretty high bar. Within the context of 2015, though, Nemeth’s goal obviously got some traction, as evidenced by his Goal of the Year honor. More importantly,, it set the stage for perhaps the most dramatic single game in Major League Soccer history.
October 29, 2015 – Not one post but two
There’s no need to write the story of The Double Post Game when, so recent, it was told so well by our colleagues at Major League Soccer’s site. In case you haven’t seen it yet, we’ve included that video below, with lore around that night in Goose Hollow leaving some to ask about the rivalry Sporting has with Portland.
To be sure, for a league that has worked hard to bring its rivalries to the forefront, MLS lives in a place where that term gets thrown around too much. There is no rivalry between Portland and Sporting, nor can there be a serious discussion of such status between two teams who, when considering each other, wouldn’t list their peer among their top four or five most hated opponents. There’s history, but a derby, Sunday is not.
But at a time when rivalry and derby get used like “sugar free” on the spine of a Coke bottle, history can, in some cases, be more important. And despite sharing a league together for only eight years, history is what Sporting and Portland have. Because if you go through the annals of MLS’ long-term foes and log all their immortal moments, you’ll find few pairings that can produce two Goals of the Year; an unforgettable, game-winning, record streak snapping own goal; as well as 120-plus minutes which have developed a nickname of their own.
Witness The Double Post Game’s history for yourself: