TUKWILA, Wash. — The rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps is already one of the most storied in North American soccer. It dates back to 1974 when both clubs joined the original NASL, continued through the minor leagues and finally came to MLS in 2011.
An underwhelming expansion season from the Whitecaps made last season’s Cascadia Cup matches between Vancouver and Seattle a matter of pride more than standings. When the two teams take the field this Saturday at BC Place (5 pm ET, TSN/watch LIVE online), however, both will be jockeying for position in the Western Conference.
The Sounders have the third-most points in MLS (22) and are leading in points per match (2.2). Their defense has allowed just four goals in 10 matches thus far, a league best. The Whitecaps, meanwhile, are one spot behind the Sounders in the West with 17 points, are just one win away from equaling last year’s win total and have allowed the fourth fewest goals in MLS (11).
Not that either team needed more motivation.
“When you’re in a rivalry game, it doesn’t really change much,” Sounders manager Sigi Schmid said. “They are a more confident team, but they were pretty confident when they came down here and played last year because it was early.”
The relative proximity of the two cities — about 140 miles separates them — certainly helps stoke the rivalry, but their shared history is what seems to take it to another level. This will be the 126th time the Sounders have played the Whitecaps across all leagues and competitions.
Both teams retain significant ties to those roots. Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer was the team’s head coach during their USL days, while players Zach Scott and Roger Levesque have each played the Whitecaps more than 20 times over the years.
The Whitecaps don’t have any players who played against the pre-MLS Sounders, but Sébastien Le Toux experienced the rivalry in the USL with Seattle and team president Bob Lenarduzzi spent 10 years with Vancouver’s NASL team.
“I remember the first game we played there and they were selling out Memorial Stadium,” Lenarduzzi told MLSsoccer.com of the first time he played against the Sounders. “I just remember for the next couple years circling that date because it was such a great atmosphere.”
Similarly, Lenarduzzi said he enjoyed seeing how many Sounders fans made the trip north for last year’s game at Empire Field, a number that has been estimated as high as 1,500.
“I was in awe,” Lenarduzzi said. “Not only of the support that the Sounders fans generated that were in the designated section, but there were people all over the stadium. I know some people complained, but I don’t care. If they are going to make the effort, I think it gets your own crowd going.”
With both teams playing well, this meeting has the potential to generate a new kind of memory.
“It’s going to be different no matter what, every year is a new history,” Sounders forward Fredy Montero. “What happened last year doesn’t matter for this one. It’s a special game, everyone wants to win.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.