ri·val·ry (noun) \ˈrī-vəl-rē\ : A state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other.
Sums it up rather neatly, don’t you think? In but a few basic words you can grasp the meaning of what a rivalry is. Then again, knowing about a rivalry and understanding a rivalry are two very different things. Look at some of the greatest sports rivalries of all time : New York Yankees Vs. Boston Red Sox, Chicago Bears Vs. Green Bay Packers, Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Montreal Canadiens. What do all of these rivalries have in common? A cultural divide? Yes (Big City Vs. Big City, Big City Vs. Mid-West, English Vs. French). A long and historic dislike for each other? Check (95 years, 93 years, 95 years). The ability to have these rivalries spill over to other sports? Absolutely (Rangers Vs. Bruins, Bulls Vs. Bucks, Blue Jays Vs. Expos). These are the teams that create classic moments that we, as sports fans, use to define our love of the game.
Enter now the Seattle Sounders & Portland Timbers. Like the previous examples, this is a rivalry that transcends the sport and goes well past our favourite teams.
“It’s something that is always going to be there just because of the historical tradition of the two cities and the tradition that goes back to ’74 and the NASL. It’s not something you’re going to change.” – Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid
The Cultures : Big Business Vs. Outdoor Urbanites
(Disclaimer: This is a look at the cultures as an East Coast Canadian, not a life long resident)
Seattle is an ever advancing city, home to some of the fastest growing technological and social markets on the planet. The Emerald City is home to the percolating powerhouse Starbucks, the tech superpower Microsoft, & and online shopping giant Amazon, making Seattle an area on the up-and-up as one of America’s economic gems. Big on what’s hip today and dialed in to the pulse of pop culture, Seattle is a city of the young, hungry, and passionate, the near perfect meld of both business & pleasure.
Portland, on the other hand, is an area steeped in the outdoors. With the headquarters of fitness superpowers Nike, Adidas (US), & Columbia Sportswear all calling the Rose City home. Regularly voted one of America’s greenest cities, attention to the environment has always been one of the prides of Portland a long side their historic connection to botany. The downtown core comprising a fleet of food trucks to meet any eating need and an air of oddness to it’s citizens, the city easily stands tall to its desire to “Keep Portland Weird.”
While not along the cultural lines of the Celtic Vs. Rangers rivalry, this is still a clear defining line between the mindsets of these two cities.
The History : 40 Years An Enemy
While not a century old, the Sounders Vs. Timbers rivalry still has a very entrenched history dating back 40 years and through several iterations. It all started in 1974 when the Seattle Sounders were awarded an North American Soccer League franchise (in the league’s first incarnation), followed closely by Portland in 1975. The very first meeting between the two bitter rivals would take place at Memorial Stadium in the heart of downtown Seattle on the 2nd of August 1975, a match that would see the Sounders take the win in overtime, 3-2. This, however, would not be the biggest match between the two, as they would meet in the ’75 playoffs where the result was a wild overtime triumph for Portland at old Civic Stadium (The Timbers went on to lose Soccer Bowl ’75 in their only Finals appearance in their history.) The two Clubs would continue to do battle following the collapse of the NASL in 1983, keeping the passion and competitiveness alive through teams in USL, A-League, and finally MLS.
Not just civic & club pride at stake in these meetings but also the pride of holding the Cascadia Cup, the championship cup created by the supporters of the Clubs that reside in the “Cascadia” Regions (which includes my countrymen to the North, the Vancouver Whitecaps). In one of the few moments of the Clubs Supporters banding together, they fought for the naming rights to the Cascadia Cup against Major League Soccer after the League attempted to trademark the various Supporter created Cups around the league. The issue was laid to rest last year and the Supporters remained in control of the Cup.
Beyond The Teams : Bigger Than The Clubs
Both Seattle & Portland are sporting cities. Through the years both have had their fair share of pro & minor league teams that have had fierce rivalries of their own. It happened in hockey when the Portland Buckaroos and Seattle Totems of the minor-league Western Hockey League waged wondrous wars in the 1960’s, mid-season games that would be played as if the Holy Grail Of Hockey, Lord Stanley’s Cup, were on the line (a rivalry that carries on today with the Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds). “I remember going into the old arena in Seattle with the Buckaroos and those fans were really rough,” said long retired goaltender Don Head of the rivalry (Don was an All-Star for both Portland and Seattle.) “Everybody sat close to the ice and it was a wild crowd. When you went in there, you sort of felt like you took your life in your hands.”
Not just confined to the ice, the diamond and the hardwood also called out to the rivalry. The former Pacific Coast League had the Portland Beavers squaring off with the Seattle Rainiers which would oft times result in wild and ruckus baseball. Then you have the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers & the Seattle SuperSonics who would scrap it out in the paint. This was intensity that went beyond the confines of an arena or a pitch, it went straight to the city limits.
Modern Day Rivalry
The Sounders Vs. Timbers matches have become some of the hottest ticket matches for today’s MLS as it’s a guarantee that the match will be aired. The atmosphere for a clash of these two teams is the stuff advertising folks dream about : Two die-hard fan factions (ECS/Gorilla FC & Timbers Army) creating one of North American Soccer’s most hostile & raucous environments. Be it the constant chanting from the supporters, the elaborate Tifo displays (from both sides), the electrifying intensity in the air, the players who feed off our energy, pushing themselves to their limits and playing their guts out for 90 minutes strong, it is an experience like nothing else.
On Saturday April 5th, the Sounders will step onto the pitch at Providence Park with our war cries ringing out to them, stare down their familiar Portland foes, and kickoff another installment of this decades old feud.
Nothing can rival it.
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