Dairon Asprilla #3, Timbers @ Seattle, 11.8.18
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

A rivalry like no other: Five key moments that define Timbers-Sounders

Most of the time, we can ignore it, but on rare occasions it’s important to note: There’s enough shared history between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC that, when it comes to the clubs’ rivalry, their fanbases can be thankful.

As SoundersFC.com notes in a related list, that history, tension, competition and, yes, partnership has driven the rivalry to new heights. Consider that the last time a team other than the Timbers or Sounders represented the Western Conference at MLS Cup, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry, now long beyond the MLS’ limelight, were the league’s marquee stars. Even that season (2014), Seattle won the Supporters’ Shield, while the Timbers finished top of the West after 2013’s regular season. You have to go all the way back to 2012 to find a year where neither Portland nor Seattle won the West or finished top of its standings in the regular season.

That success may explain why, for all the bragging rights each side has over the other, some moments can be cherished by both, if from different points of views. Take, for example, where we pick up with the rivalry’s top MLS-era moments – a moment that also appears as part of Seattle’s list:

Toppling the Starfire Fortress
For other similarly named topics, see Red Card Wedding.

The ending to 2015’s U.S. Open Cup meeting was more than the indulgence of Clint Dempsey’s id. It was coda to a night that rebuked two rivalry narratives.

Perhaps time will forget that, in 2015, Open Cup was still a huge deal for Seattle. Likewise, the thin turf and cramped locker rooms of Starfire were part of a place promoted as a fortress. Some soured on those stories come 2015, but both were points of pride before Dempsey’s eruption.

Let’s also be clear about something else: Dempsey’s eruption was amazing. Had it happened in another rivalry, Timbers and Sounders fans would be jealous. That it occurred during Portland’s win cast Dempsey’s act as more boiling point than happenstance. Either way, it’s still in the rivalry’s inner circle.

Adi claims the chainsaw
Just as the Sounders have their Tree Chop, so too do the Timbers an iconic derby celly.

It happened 12 days after the Red Card Wedding, as part of a brace that turned a tight game into a rout. In the 76th minute, with Fanendo Adi having just given his team a 2-1 lead minutes before, the Portland striker was sprung on a counterattack, one that ended with his only Timbers goal from outside the penalty area. Though his reaction initially took him toward Providence Park’s east stand, the second-leading scorer in club history soon bent toward Timber Joey, snaring the mascot’s chainsaw as part the most memorable celebration of the team’s MLS era:

2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals
Around Dairon Asprilla’s dramatics, Raúl Ruidíaz’s penalty box opportunism, Sebastián Blanco’s heroics and foibles and the penalty kick shootout, it’s important to remember the stakes before 2018’s semifinal. If Seattle won, they would not only even the scales after 2013’s results but, having by then claimed the team’s first star, undermine a key argument in Portland’s favor. But if the Timbers won, well …

Portland could still claim that, when derbies mattered most, they had Seattle’s number. Thanks to 2018, that claim lives on. They could claim that, for whatever prior generations had endured, present-day results were swaying toward Portland. Against everyone else, Seattle may be excelling, but when the stakes were highest between rivals, Portland was coming out on top.

2015 MLS Cup breakthrough
Though Seattle was not part of Portland’s title path, 2015 has become foundational to the rivalry. It had Red Card Wedding and Adi’s chainsaw. Perhaps more importantly, it had Cascadia’s first MLS Cup breakthrough.

We see how rivalry drives the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, who have periods where their rivalry’s competition pushes them past the rest of their division. We’ve seen it with the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and we even see it in college, where Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball histories can feel like Duke, North Carolina and little else.

There are times when a rivalry drives success around it, and while it’s too much to say Portland and Seattle have only one benchmark, the duo has defined MLS’ Western Conference since the Timbers’ breakthrough. The need to keep the other in reach has driven both forward.

2013 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals
Portland’s season had been a magical one, with the Timbers finishing atop the Western Conference while Seattle experienced their first major MLS hiccups. Still, a meeting in the conference semifinals gave the Sounders a chance to salvage their season. Instead, seemingly from the earliest moments of the first leg in Seattle, the Timbers asserted themselves: scoring within 15 minutes; taking a 2-0 lead by the 67th; cruising to a 5-3 victory over two legs.

Perhaps this is where the rivalry truly began pushing both sides. Losing to the Timbers meant, after steady contention since their MLS debut, Seattle needed to regroup. They’d claim the Supporters’ Shield the next season and the year after that, Portland won MLS Cup. Seattle has claimed two league titles since.

Still, no matter how the rivalry grows from here, Portland will always have 2013. They’ll always have 2015, too. When it comes to firsts, the Timbers will always have two of the most important in Portland and Seattle’s MLS era.