Seattle's recent struggles add more weight to rivalry game

Seattle fans' tifo against Portland in 2011

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TUKWILA, Wash. – As if it needed any more importance, the Seattle Sounders’ encounter with the Portland Timbers on Sunday (5 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) is a must-win for more than just rivalry reasons.

The Sounders have now gone six games without a victory and are in danger of wasting what was the best start in franchise history. They are also in the midst of a stretch of games in which they’ll play seven times in 28 days; so far they have claimed one point in two games.

ESPN Preview: Portland vs. Seattle

“That’s just going to heighten the intensity and push the rivalry even more,” said Roger Levesque, whose involvement in the rivalry goes back to his USL days with the Sounders.

How it could get much more intense than it already is seems hard to imagine. The two teams trace their history back to 1975 when both took part in the original NASL and the rivalry has continued through several leagues, culminating last year when the Timbers joined MLS.

Their two MLS encounters last year did nothing but add to that history.

In the first, the two teams played to a 1-1 tie in a driving rainstorm. The results on the field may have actually taken a backseat to what happened in the stands.

“The fan tifo was just … I don’t think I’ve ever been more pumped for a game that I didn’t play in than that game,” Sounders defender Zach Scott said about the display that filled almost the entire south end of CenturyLink Field. “I just, like, goose bumps and so excited, so much adrenaline. I wanted to run through a wall for my team.”

In the rematch, the Sounders twice erased one-goal deficits before winning on a late penalty in Portland. That game also featured a massive pregame display from Timbers fans, which covered an entire section of JELD-WEN Field.

In their previous encouter in 2010, the Sounders needed a penalty-kick shootout to move past the then-USL Timbers in the US Open Cup.

“If every team had a rival like this, it would be awesome,” said Sounders defender Jeff Parke, noting that no rivalry in MLS he’s ever experienced comes close to this one. “If you’re not even a soccer fan and you’re stumbling through the channels and you click on the game, you see the crowd go crazy, the banners and everybody waving their flags and stuff. ... I don’t know how any sort of sports fan you couldn’t get excited about it.

“It’s all about pushing the game around and making people talk about it and getting people excited about it.”

Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.