PORTLAND – While soccer fans in the Pacific Northwest buzz about this weekend’s match between the Sounders and the Timbers, coaches and players from both teams say their focus ultimately has to remain on the pitch.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to get a little jazzed about the rivalry.
The teams meet for the first time as part of Major League Soccer on Saturday night in Seattle. Portland joined the league this season.
“You don’t want to get into the hype, but obviously it’s something that should be on the back of their minds now,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “They know it’s Portland week and that should get them excited. If I have to spend a long time trying to impress that upon them then they haven’t been living in the city long enough.”
But there’s also work to do. For Portland, the match is a chance to secure a first MLS road victory.
The Timbers are 4-3-1 and coming off back-to-back league victories against Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union.
Both of those victories came at Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field, where the Timbers are 4-0. They are 0-3-1 away from home.
“Obviously, there’s a lot on the line,” Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “For us it’s getting that first result on the road.”
Futty Danso scored the lone goal for the Timbers in a 1-0 victory over the Union last Friday night. Perkins has not allowed a goal in 203 minutes, the longest active streak in MLS.
Seattle is 3-3-4, coming off a 1-all draw on the road against the Columbus Crew last Saturday. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller made four saves in the second half.
The teams are tied for fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 13 points each.
There will be special attention on Sounders forward/midfielder Roger Levesque, who first played for the Sounders in 2003 when the team was part of the United Soccer Leagues.
Timbers fans accuse Levesque of a cheap hit on a Portland player in 2004 when both teams played in the USL. In 2007, when he was a guest player in Portland, Levesque was greeted by a sign that said “True Fans Hate Levesque.”
Then in 2009, Levesque scored for Seattle in a U.S. Open Cup match against the Timbers. In celebration, he mocked Portland by pretending to be a tree chopped down by a teammate.
Levesque embraces the villain role.
“Any kind of back-and-forth just shows the passion of both cities and both fan groups in how involved they are and how excited everyone is for the game coming up on Saturday,” he said this week.
When the MLS brought Portland and Vancouver into the league this season, the idea was to exploit the rich soccer history shared by the cities that dates to 1975, when all were part of the North American Soccer League.
The Portland-Seattle rivalry is particularly intense – in part because both cities are competitive in so many other areas.
In college football, the Oregon Ducks still revel in Kenny Wheaton’s interception against the Washington Huskies in 1994.
In the NBA, the series between the SuperSonics and the Trail Blazers was dubbed the I-5 Rivalry because of the short 3-hour stretch of interstate between towns.
“It doesn’t matter what sport you play them in, if it’s softball or tennis, it’s still gonna be Seattle wants to beat Portland and Portland wants to beat Seattle.” Timbers coach John Spencer said.
Saturday will be the first of this season’s Cascadia Cup matches between the Timbers, Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. The award goes to the winner of the head-to-head league matches between the three teams, based on a point system.
Vancouver won the first Cascadia Cup in 2004, when all three teams were part of the United Soccer Leagues First Division.
“There is more to being a Timbers fan that beating Seattle and beating Vancouver,” Portland supporter Eric Berg said. “But certainly, I’d much rather beat Seattle than not.”
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