Northwest soccer rivalry renewed with Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps
By BILL SWARTZ
KIRO/710 ESPN Sports Anchor
My friends Russ and Katie used to drive down from Seattle, pick me up in Tacoma, and we laughed our way to Portland to watch our beloved Seattle Sounders take on the dreaded Timbers. We yelled ourselves hoarse at old Portland Memorial Stadium, and the great I-5 soccer rivalry is back.
This weekend, something called the Cascadia Cup is up for grabs at Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila. Sounders FC will take on the newest Major League Soccer Expansion teams, Portland and Vancouver BC in “friendly” exhibition matches.
But as Seattle fans know all too well, there’s nothing friendly when Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps clash on the soccer pitch. I asked Seattle coach Sigi Schmid how he plans to approach these matches this weekend.
“I was looking at them as just a couple pre-season matches, but I was told I couldn’t look at them that way,” Sigi chuckled. “The games are important because they’re rivalry games. But it’s still pre-season for us and we’re making decision on a lot of players on our roster.”
The rivalry goes back 40 years when all three cities had entries in the old North American Soccer League. Crowds were massive in the Kingdome when Portland fans came up north, and the “cheeseheads,” or Whitecap fans flocked south from British Columbia.
Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller is pleased fans kept the rivalry alive through soccer’s lean years in the United States.
“Both teams have done a great job getting themselves ready for their inaugural MLS season,” observed Keller. “It’s a win, win for the fans, MLS, and soccer in America in general.”
Keller has been the target of posters and verbal barbs when Sounders FC played U.S. Open cup matches at Portland’s PGE Park. Keller’s viewed as somewhat of a soccer traitor because he was a star at the University of Portland.
Sounders forward Nate Jacqua is in the same predicament. He grew up in Eugene before kicking it for the Portland Pilots. How much more intense are the matches against the Timbers now that they’ve joined the big boys league, MLS?
Nate believes the intensity will be magnified. “I think it will be more fierce,” said Jacqua. “We’re going to play more often. They’re pushing to replicate a lot of the things we’ve done here in Seattle. It’s going be very heated, and something we look forward to.”
At 7:30 Friday night, it’s the Sounders against Portland. Saturday, the Timbers take on Vancouver. Then Sunday at 3 p.m. it’s Seattle against the Whitecaps.
Both Sounders matches are sell-outs. Tickets remain for the Vancouver-Portland match.
The real MLS games kick off March 15 when Sounders host Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Listen to Seattle Sounders FC matches on 97.3 KIRO FM