MLS fan groups ready to finally celebrate rivalry
The Cascadia Cup resides in an inauspicious house in northeast Portland, shined up for its Major League Soccer debut.
The silver trophy is the icon of the long-standing rivalry between the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Unique because it was created by fans, the award takes on greater significance this season now that all three teams are part of MLS.
The first match in the Pacific Northwest tri-valry is set for Saturday night, when the Timbers visit the Sounders. That's apropos, because the competition is particularly intense between fans in Portland and Seattle.
''I guess the only way to explain it is that for us it's like the Yankees and the Red Sox in baseball, or like the Lakers and the Celtics in the 80s,'' said Timbers fan Fernando Machicado, keeper of the cup.
The original Cascadia Cup was introduced in 2004 when all three teams were part of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. Fans pooled their money to buy the 2-foot tall trophy, which goes to the team that finishes with the best record in head-to-head matches between the trio, based on a points system.
The Timbers have claimed the trophy for the past two seasons in the competition with the Whitecaps, after the Sounders were pulled out of the mix by their jump to MLS. Now that Vancouver and Portland have joined the league this season, the cup again will be contested by the three teams.
That delights MLS.
''Rivalries are a key factor in what makes the sport in Europe and Latin America so special,'' Commissioner Don Garber said. ''We think the rivalry of our Pacific Northwest clubs will change the landscape of soccer in the United States and Canada and serve as an important driver in growing the popularity our league.''
Just like the Stanley Cup in hockey, the Cascadia Cup has been passed around a great deal. The latest cup is actually new because the original was dropped - Portland fans swear it happened in Vancouver, but the details are murky - and could not be repaired.
Machicado, who appeared in a striking team billboard campaign that featured fans and various logging implements, currently has the new MLS-ready cup on a bookshelf at his home. It will not be making the trip Saturday, when the Timbers Army - Portland's independent supporters group - takes 10 buses on the three-hour drive up the I-5 to Seattle.
The management of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver agreed to set aside 500 seats for visiting fans for the games this season. Among the stipulations is those fans will be seated in one secured area of the stadium in an attempt to keep any fan incidents from popping up.
The Timbers, who will debut their road red jerseys for the match, are 4-3-1 and coming off back-to-back league victories against Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union. Seattle is 3-3-4.
The two teams are tied for fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 13 points each.
The rivalry between Portland and Seattle dates back to 1975, when both teams were part of the North American Soccer League.
Seattle supporters like to point out that the Sounders beat Portland 1-0 in the first game between the two teams that year, while Timbers fans talk up how Portland beat Seattle in the '75 playoffs and advanced to the league championship.
''I can say that my favorite, most memorable, most joyous - and most despondent - times as a Timbers supporter in the last 10 years have been when we've won in Seattle and when we've lost in Seattle,'' said Eric Berg of the Timbers Army.
While there's quite a bit of gamesmanship sure to go around between the supporters groups, Keith Hodo of the Emerald City Supporters said there's no added pressure because both teams are now MLS, or because the match is on national television. It would be intense even if no one else was paying attention.
''I think it's just between the Emerald City Supporters and Timbers Army, we both just want to one-up each other, and we get the first crack at setting the precedent,'' he said.
After Saturday's match, Seattle will visit Portland on July 10. Vancouver travels to Seattle June 11 with the Sounders going north on Sept. 24. The Whitecaps play at Portland on Aug. 20 and the Timbers become Vancouver's first opponent at remodeled B.C. Place stadium on Oct. 2.
One thing that really doesn't seem to be of major concern is the hooliganism that sometimes taints European soccer matches. The overwhelming sense is that the rival groups need to represent their teams in a positive light now that they're both big time. The three fan groups even met in March for the so-called Cascadia Summit to discuss their roles.
''Hopefully it will be a good showing on the pitch and off,'' Hodo said.