As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
The countdown continues with No. 5, as new media editor Nick Firchau looks back at the wet and wild rivalry between Portland and Seattle.
The first shot across the Columbia River came in September 2010, in the form of an audacious green sign planted firmly and dangerously behind enemy lines.
It famously claimed that Portland, and not Seattle, was Soccer City, USA. But who’s kidding who? The printers could have saved a ton of ink if they’d just gone with what everyone down in the Rose City was really trying to say: Game on.
Okay, okay. The Cascadia history buffs are hammering on their keyboards right now because of course this rivalry pre-dates MLS. In fact, it goes all the way back to a mustachioed era of polyester jerseys and games played at the Portland Civic Stadium (now JELD-WEN Field) or the Kingdome in Seattle (rest in peace), when Arlo White was loitering with intent as a schoolboy in England.
by Taylor Twellman
The Timbers Army's National Anthem
People can talk all they want about Seattle and the atmosphere they create up there, but Portland. … I can’t describe what it was like to watch that national anthem in Portland, and I was watching on TV. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a player with 18,000 people singing the national anthem that loud. I could never imagine that Portland atmosphere as a player. It’s insane.
I got goose bumps and the hair on the back of my neck stood up, for the first time in a long time. I thought I was watching an EPL game. Anyone who tells me that soccer doesn’t work in this country is out of their coconut, because I’m watching that game thinking I’m watching Fulham vs. Liverpool. It was awesome.
But the moment that introduced Major League Soccer to the league’s hands-down best rivalry came a full eight months before we even saw the teams go at it. The Timbers’ billboard was a call to arms (chainsaws!) for the MLS debut of Portland-Seattle in 2011. Finally, everyone else got to see what the folks on I-5 had been yelling about since 1975.
MLS die-hards were weaned for years on the old-school rivalries of MLS, ones born in the early days of the league: served cold (New York-D.C.), extra cold (New England-Chicago) or with avocado (LA-San Jose). But all of those took a bit of time to form, for personalities to clash, for playoff battles to be won, lost and stewed over through the winter.
And with all due respect to fellow Cascadia club Vancouver, the Portland-Seattle rivalry came out buzzing like a mid-afternoon espresso in Hawthorne or Fremont. The fans argued about history, players, colors, jerseys, home stadiums, attendance. They argued about microbrews. They argued about their announcers’ catch phrases. They argued about what they were arguing about.
And for the first time in MLS history, annual precipitation was as contentious a topic as a referee’s blown call or a forward’s missed sitter.
“If it’s too wet up there for them to play soccer, they might want to move that franchise, because it pisses down rain nearly every time I’ve been in Seattle,” Timbers coach John Spencer said in the days after a soggy but satisfying 1-1 draw in the teams’ inaugural MLS game in Seattle in May.
“Next time we go up there, we’re going to take plenty of towels for them so we can dry the field off before the game. And maybe we’ll take plenty of tissue paper so they can dry their eyes after the game.”
"Soccer Sets Portland Abuzz"
The New York Times
Of course, Sounders fans are quick to mention, that hasn’t happened quite yet. After the draw in May gave prospective parents in Portland some new, interesting naming options ("it's either Captain Jack or Futty"), the Sounders trekked down to the Rose City for the return leg in July, with electric green jerseys in tow and a large chip on their shoulders.
They clawed, they scrapped, they scraped. The Timbers took a one-goal lead twice before Seattle’s Fredy Montero whipped a seeing-eye free kick past goalkeeper Troy Perkins to even it up. And then Osvaldo Alonso – who is almost certainly the first Cuban soccer player some bartender in Seattle will ever name an honorary drink after – cashed in a penalty kick in the 83rd minute to cap a five-goal second half and one of the best games of the 2011 season.
There is absolutely no love lost between the two sides, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. The Portland-Seattle rivalry is one embraced by its players and coaches, adored by television execs and certainly idolized by other league's trying to create their own version of one of the best feuds in American sports.
The billboard is gone, but the bad blood remains. Fans will spend the rest of winter firing off insults in chat rooms or even the message board that follows this article, until we get another satisfying dose of Portland-Seattle in the warmer months of 2012.
Because if the two clubs taught us one thing in 2011, it’s this: This rivalry is never going to hibernate.
WATCH: Matchday 360 on Timber vs.-Sounders