TUKWILA, Wash. — Roger Levesque, the shaggy-haired Seattle Sounders utility man, is the ultimate villain in the eyes of Portland Timbers fans.
A lightning rod of fan contempt, Levesque’s a symbol of the ferocious soccer rivalry that has developed between the two cities. A target since the USL days, Levesque seems to play his best matches against the Timbers — and generally takes every opportunity to rub it in.
As just one example: In a 2009 US Open Cup match, Levesque opened the scoring after just 49 seconds on a brilliant diving header. For his celebration, he teamed up with Nate Jaqua to simulate chopping down a tree. Levesque said after the match that his only regret was that the goal and celebration happened on the opposite side of the field from the Timbers Army.
So goes the relationship between the Portland faithful and Levesque. Articulate, friendly and Stanford-educated, Levesque is considered a standout individual. However, he’s been on the Timbers Army’s radar since his first full season with the A-League Seattle Sounders.
Reports of the genesis of the ill will vary. Dave Hoyt, president of Portland supporters group 107 Independent Supporters Trust, points to a cheap shot from Levesque as starting it all in 2004. In an email to MLSsoccer.com this week, Hoyt claimed Levesque tripped up Portland’s Scot Thompson and proceeded to stamp down on his ankle right in front of the Timbers Army at the old PGE Park.
While that would certainly serve to inflame sensibilities, USL head coach and current Sounders assistant Brian Schmetzer mentioned an incident with a Portland goalkeeper as the root of the animosity.
Even if the exact source can’t be traced, it’s clear the Portland fans aren’t forgetting the target of their vitriol. Seattle defender Jeff Parke experienced the Portlanders’ feelings towards Levesque first-hand last season during the Open Cup.
“It’s not love-hate,” Parke said of the relationship between Portland fans and Levesque. "It’s definitely hate-hate. Every time we’ve gone there, they seek him out. I don’t think there’s any love lost there.”
Parke calls Levesque “one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.” However, he understands why Levesque rubs Portland fans the wrong way.
“He’s scored a lot of goals against them,” Parke said. "You can’t like the guy who has your number. It’s difficult to cheer for someone like that, but it’s easy to hate on him. You don’t know him as a person, but you know him on the field. You’ve seen him score goals that put you out of tournaments.”
The "familiarity breeds contempt" argument may hold water. Since 2003, Levesque has played roughly a dozen matches for Seattle against the Portland franchise. In addition to his goal in the 2009 Open Cup, he was also on the field as the MLS Sounders dispatched the Timbers in 2010 in a penalty shootout.
Levesque has shied away from dishing out any bulletin-board material this week, saying only that he thinks the on-field action could “get a little bit nasty.”
Hoyt hopes Portland will get the last laugh Saturday.
“There's not a lot of love for Roger the player,” Hoyt wrote. “Hating Roger is a cultural touchstone for us — the familiarity of a common foe.”