In Portland, the quiet before the Cascadia Cup storm

JELD-WEN Field, Portland

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's Friday afternoon in downtown Portland, right at the intersection of SW Morrison St. and SW 18th Avenue. A few assorted souls take a break from their office jobs to eat lunch in the sunshine, enjoying what promises to be one of the city's last truly beautiful summer days. It’s quiet, lazy, airy.

But that’s Friday. On Saturday, this will be a very different place. On Saturday, this will be one of, if not the most exciting place to watch soccer in America.

Because on Saturday, the Seattle Sounders come to town. Then, the atmosphere here at the intersection in front of JELD-WEN Field will be loud, kinetic, crowded as the Portland Timbers supporters arrive to try to inspire their team against their archrivals.

WATCH: Portland-Seattle, Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, NBC

"Mentally, everybody is there,” longtime Timbers Army member James Harrison said this week. “They are getting ready. They are on high alert. It means everything. It's our biggest derby. Our hopes and fears reside in it. With the current importance of the Cascadia Cup as the redeemer of our season, this is our last, best chance."

Timbers coach and GM Gavin Wilkinson says the trophy that is presented to the best team in the Pacific Northwest every year is the second-most important cup of the year behind MLS Cup, but the supporters of his team tend to disagree.

I asked Harrison which he'd rather have, and before I could finish the question he answered: "Cascadia Cup."

"We haven't had the time to mythologize MLS Cup, but we know what the Cascadia Cup means,” he explained. “That rivalry is real and it's strong. Of course we want to win MLS Cup, but we have to win the Cascadia Cup."

JELD-WEN Field will be rocking as the Timbers Army works to spur its team to victory. They desperately desire that silverware.

Another topic on everyone's tongue here and elsewhere is tifo. At a Timbers event on Thursday night, I asked around, trying to find out what the Army had planned for NBC's national television audience. The first answer was "nothing," which surprised me. Something about an agreement between TA and the Sounders fan groups. I didn't buy it. I kept asking. No one would talk. Finally, one person opened up, but only a little.

"Oh yeah, there will be tifo," the source said, smiling. "But you do not talk about tifo."

So, it's like Fight Club?

He changed the subject. I took the hint. On game day, I'll be surprised along with the rest of the world when that massive banner unfurls between sections 101 and 108.

Until then, I try to locate signs of what's headed this way — i.e., Sounders fans — but there aren't many. In two days spent walking around in Portland, I don’t see any Sounders jerseys or swag. The fans are, it seems, still 175 miles north or else too wary to show their true colors. (A little of both, I suspect.)

But I also see fewer Timbers jerseys than I expected, too. I suppose that's the thing about being a supporter in today’s North American soccer scene: You don’t need to shout it from the rooftops the way you used to. It’s just there.

And when it’s time, on Saturday, it explodes in beautiful colors and unified voices.