Thursday, October 11, 2012

How Big is it? The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers Rivalry

“We’re watching the soccer game at my house tonight! Come swing by if you want to!” Let’s be honest; how many times have you heard this from your peers, besides your friends that either play soccer for a team, or somebody who enjoys soccer as a fan, like me? For understandable reasons, soccer, or futbol as the rest of the world calls it, doesn’t quite have the appeal of sports such as baseball, nor dare I say, football. The kind in which players score touchdowns instead of goals. And yes, yes, yes, I know that some people might think soccer doesn’t have the drama of football, or that it doesn’t look like it, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye – and in Seattle, people seem to notice this. The sport seems to appeal more in places other than the US, but there is still some appeal inside the US. Other than places like Los Angeles or New York, the Pacific Northwest seems to have a kind of appreciation that can hardly be matched by any other place in the country. We have this one team called the Seattle Sounders to thank for all of this.

The many, the proud, the Sounders fans.
Seattle Sounders FC

Now, the Sounders might not be a team that superstars from Europe go for instead of… I don’t know, let’s say the LA Galaxy. Yes, David Beckham, we’re looking at you. But as the Sounders prove, time and time again, that isn’t necessarily the recipe for success. The Sounders’ manager, Sigi Schmid, is a man that understands this and knows that he has a lot of talent in his players’ hands. The upshot of such a combination is a team that is well respected for who they are, instead of having a big-time name on the team, and are always stepping out on to the field to win. They have been quite successful in an irrefutable way, in other words, they are giving the fans plenty of reasons to justify why they really, really like their team. Speaking of which, Seattle’s football team bears the name “Sounders” for a reason. Yep, it’s the fans. Strangely, “the loudest fans in the league” applies to the Sounders fans, in the same way that it applies to the Seahawks fans. The passion the fans have for soccer is absolutely insane, and for somebody that grew up with European football, it’s nothing short of mind-blowing. Is it as intense as the European fan boys and hooligans? No way, but oh boy is it impressive.
Of course, since European football has been mentioned, there is one thing that has to be covered and that’s European rivalries, arguably the best known being Barcelona-Real Madrid. The Spanish call this game “El Clasico”, which translates to, um… The Classic. Fair enough, right? But when a matchup is given such a name, you can’t help but think if it deserves the name. This one surely does, because of both teams’ status. Both are top dogs in La Liga, which is Spain’s MLS. Both are also heavy hitters in the Champions League –which is the #1 league in Europe. Both are stacked with god-like players, all of which can easily pull off a Nike commercial. And of course, both have fans around the world. You’re likely to actually be sitting to somebody next to you, who can easily pick a side. That’s how big it is. Over the last weekend, the two giants faced each other at the Camp Nou, in Barcelona, in a game which ended 2-2 and had everything for a dramatic rivalry. Although it might not be as big, we have ourselves a rivalry in here as well. And its name is Seattle Sounders vs. the Portland Timbers.

The team before a home match against the Vancover Whitecaps on August 17, 2012.
 Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America

The rivalry pre-dates the current teams in both cities, back to the North American Soccer League days, and has since grown into one of the largest and most bitter rivalries in American soccer. Many consider this rivalry to be one of the true derbies in the MLS, and is much like a British rivalry. Bitter, passionate, dirty, long-storied, full of taunting. Sounds much like one anyway. The Portland Timbers are supported by the Timbers Army while the Seattle Sounders by the Emerald City Supporters. The spirited groups have always showed a deep amount of resentment toward each other throughout the years and it really does feel like one of those rivalries from the UK. The stats show that out of all the games played, the Sounders seem to come out on top, as it was the case last Sunday night at CenturyLink Field. The people’s reaction to this game, as it always is in the Pacific Northwest, was huge - a record crowd of more than 66,000 attended the game. With all the fan flags held up high, and with the company of seriously loud and spirited chanting, Seattle blanked Portland 3-0. So much for Portland's Cascadia Cup dreams. To say the least, it was a comprehensive victory, with Seattle on the driver’s seat for the full 90 minutes. As Brad Evans, a Sounders midfielder explains: "You always remember certain games and get emotional with certain games. Anytime you walk out and you feel the chills, you know it's going to be a special game and you play off those emotions because that pushes you through walls and that's something I thought our guys played off the crowd tonight and we won." It shows that they played off the crowd, because like the game itself, the crowd was bonkers.

Amazing tifo before the big rivalry match at CenturyLink Field.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America

So, with all the craziness revolving around soccer, and as far as people’s reactions to the sport goes, this might be the right place for soccer to become a bigger thing in the US. In fact, the future of soccer in the Pacific Northwest is so bright, it might be brighter than the Sounders’ light blue kit… which I personally can’t help but think of one of those hi-vis police jackets.

Feature Article written by Yaman Harut.

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