Countdown to First Kick: 9 Cascadia rivalries heat up

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign. 

9 – Cascadia Cup matches between Portland, Vancouver and Seattle in 2012

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers went through a host of offseason changes this winter, but until the regular season begins, they’re exactly where they left off in 2011: behind Seattle.

Coaches and players from the two sophomore clubs can talk all they want about winning bigger and better games in 2012, but they’ll have to beat Seattle if they’re to get anywhere in the best regional rivalry in the league.

There are nine Cascadia Cup games in total this season between the three clubs, beginning with a tilt between the renovated Whitecaps at home against the Sounders on May 19. The two teams played to a dramatic draw in June (neither fanbase will soon forget Eric Hassli’s amazing late equalizer for the ‘Caps), but then Fredy Montero put on his own show in the series finale in September, a come-from-behind 3-1 win in front of the Vancouver faithful.

The Sounders got the best of the Timbers, too, thanks to a soggy draw at CenturyLink Field and a sun-splashed win in the Rose City, another come-from-behind effort that saw midfielder Osvaldo Alonso convert a late penalty kick to seal the deal. They’ll become reacquainted on Sept. 15, when NBC shines the bright lights on the rivalry with the first MLS broadcast on the league’s flagship network.

The Timbers downed their expansion counterparts from Vancouver twice, at least giving them some bragging rights headed into 2012. But the Whitecaps underwent the most dramatic changes during a formative offseason, including the addition of Sébastien Le Toux (a former Sounder himself), Young-Pyo Lee and promising rookie Darren Mattocks.

The Timbers signed Kris Boyd and defender Hanyer Mosquera, and the Sounders will lean on new additions Eddie Johnson and Michael Gspurning, but no amount of new players can change the most basic appeal of the rivalry: the fans.

Need further proof? Just check out the comments below.

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WATCH: Timbers vs. Sounders, MatchDay 360