Portland's rivalry with Vancouver goes back a long way

PORTLAND, Ore. – Jimmy Kelly can’t tell you what it was like to be playing for the Portland Timbers away at the Vancouver Whitecaps during the days of the NASL. This is a family website.

The Timbers former winger is a fan favorite who still lives in the Portland area. The Irishman said – without providing details – that the talk amongst the opposing players and fans was heated, to say the least.

“It’s all in good humor,” said Kelly, who played with the Timbers from 1975 to ‘76 and again in 1981 and was 5-3 against the Cascadia Cup rivals north of the border. “But some of that stuff, if you heard it, you wouldn’t think it was good humor. That’s just the sort of banter that went on in those games. We had fun back then.”

The memories came flooding back when he spoke with MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday as the Timbers prepare to face the Whitecaps on Saturday for the second time as members of MLS, this time in Vancouver with a spot in the playoffs on the line for Portland.

Kelly said the war of words came from all angles, on the field where fellow countrymen wouldn’t miss a chance for a good ribbing and from the stands, where unmentionables were shouted liberally. He said the games in Vancouver were even more heated because of the large English and Irish population there, lending the atmosphere to a more European feel.

“You’re in another country,” Kelly said. “You got your little bit of abuse and I’d wink at them and smile. It would annoy the hell out of them.”

Kelly said the Cascadia rivalry games between Vancouver and Seattle would take an even bigger meaning when the postseason was on the line. Kelly’s Timbers went on playoff runs in 1975 and 1981 and the current team heads into its game against the Whitecaps two points out of the 10th and final wild card playoff spot. Vancouver, meanwhile, are in last place in the Western Conference.

“Even if one team isn’t doing well, there’s that little bit of extra bite to the game,” Kelly said. “You shouldn’t need it, but it just gives you that little bit of extra energy.”

Playoffs or not, Kelly said he’s been extremely impressed with the Timbers' success in their first season in the MLS. He also believes the fan support of the team has been on par with what he remembers. Getting ready to face an old rival has a knack of rekindling old memories.

“You just wanted to beat them; that was the mindset,” said Kelly, who plans on watching the game at a local Irish pub. “We liked Vancouver as a city, but we didn’t like the team.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com