It’s Rose City versus the Emerald City

May 13, 2011, 11:23 AM | Updated: May 14, 2011, 10:09 am

Yankees-Red Sox. Cougs-Huskies. Celtics-Lakers. You can add Timbers and Sounders to that list of fierce sports rivals.

Seattle Sounders FC players and coaches had Saturday May 14 circled on their calendars since the Major League Soccer schedule came out several months ago. The expansion Portland Timbers come to Qwest Field for what’s expected to be a very heated and entertaining battle.

Matt Johnson hosts the pre-game show at 7:30, with Arlo White handling play-by-play on 97.3 KIRO FM at 8.

The Rose City versus Emerald City soccer rivalry goes back to the 1970’s, when both teams were part of the North American Soccer League. They kept the fire burning through the USL contests.

Portland coach John Spencer stoked the rivalry fires this week when he told reporters on a conference call, “The history behind the game excites the player, and staff. I’m pretty sure it’s probably going to be the second best atmosphere in the country – second to Jeld-Wen Field in Portland – when the game kicks off.”

Coach Spencer might want to look at the numbers. Jeld-Wen holds 18,627 for Timbers home matches. Seattle’s Xbox Pitch has been averaging a league-best 36,289 per game. Sounders FC in two seasons has become the gold standard for Major League Soccer.

The Oregonian newspaper ran an article several weeks ago claiming Portland is soccer city USA. The Timbers poured more salt in the wounds when they signed Seattle-based Alaska Airlines as their corporate sponsor. Alaska even has a plane with the Timbers’ colors and logo painted from nose to tail!

This Portland versus Seattle clash is one reason decorated goalkeeper Kasey Keller decided to play one more season with Sounders FC. Keller told me after practice this week, “Here it is. Not being part of the first Portland rivalry game would seem strange. I’m so glad I’ve been able to come back home and be part of a couple big moments in Sounders history.”

Oregon native and Seattle forward Nate Jaqua expects a fierce, physical, intense match, much like Sounders got in last year’s U.S. Open Cup game in Portland.

“I think it’s great for the Northwest, and MLS as a whole,” he said. “It’s one we definitely want to get the better of them.”

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid tried to keep the mood lighter after Thursday’s practice when he looked around the pack of reporters and asked, “Anyone here from Portland?”

In our Coach’s Corner interview, Schmid talked about keeping things in perspective when it comes to rivalry games.

“It’s tremendous, he said. “Everyone I’ve run into knows the history of the rival series. Some of our guys haven’t experienced the rivalry yet, except for the exhibition game, and the U.S. Open Cup match in Portland. We’re excited to host Portland in a game that matters to both teams.”

Indeed, the Timbers and Sounders both have 13 points in the MLS Western Conference standings. Portland has been lights out terrific at home, but struggle a bit on the road.

Coach Schmid is concerned about their up-tempo, quick attacking style.

“They don’t monkey around with it,” he said. “They have a big target in Kenny Cooper, and a fast forward, Jorge Perlaza. They try to get it in front of your goal as soon as possible. They’ve had success with that style at home and not so much on the road. They are a confident team though because they’ve won four of their last five.”

Given Portland’s pressing style, and Seattle’s desire to attack, this should be a highly entertaining match for the fans both at Qwest Field and those looking in during ESPN 2’s national telecast.

This match is part of the Cascadia Cup, with the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps also returning to the true Northwest soccer rivalry.

Better buckle up for a very lively summer!

Seattle Sounders FC

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It’s Rose City versus the Emerald City