PORTLAND, Ore. – Just in case Portland supporters were wondering if there were any big differences to how the Seattle Sounders viewed the two teams’ historic rivalry, Timbers forward Mike Fucito cleared that up right away.
“You’re supposed to hate the other team,” said Fucito, the first player to change sides in the Portland-Seattle rivalry in its MLS era.
The diminutive and energetic Fucito, acquired April 20 by Portland in a trade with Montreal earlier this year, said all the emotions Portland are feeling in the week leading up to Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN Field (5 pm ET, ESPN, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com) are identical to what he experienced in the three years he played three hours north on Interstate 5.
“These are games you look forward to on the schedule every year,” he Fucito said. “Just the history and the rivalry is very unique and very special, and to be a part of it is a great thing.”
In Fucito’s three years in a Sounders shirt, he emerged as a fan favorite before he was traded this preseason to expansion side Montreal Impact. The Timbers brought him back to the Pacific Northwest after he received limited playing time in Montreal, acquiring the Harvard graduate in exchange for a draft pick or international roster slot.
Fucito noted that donning a Timbers jersey may have felt a little strange at first, but now with his old club coming to town he feels well entrenched as a member of the team.
WATCH: Fucito discusses the Portland-Seattle rivalry
“I’ve settled in nicely, and it’s completely normal,” he said. “I think it would be weird to put on the other [jersey] at this point.”
As for Fucito’s impact on the field in Portland, he continues to fight the “super substitute” label, a role he’s played his entire career. He’s played in three games for the Timbers, logging only 27 minutes.
“I want to be a starter,” Fucito said. “I had a decent run of games last year, and it’s something every day in training I’m trying to put in the work and get into the starting lineup.”
Portland brought Fucito in to add depth to the forward position, and head coach John Spencer had high praise for what he’s brought to the table.
“He’s a little tenacious striker that gets about you and doesn’t let you get time on the ball,” Spencer said. “He puts his body in there even though he’s not a big guy and he brings an energy and enthusiasm to training every day.”
As for any scouting perspective Fucito may have brought to the table this week, Spencer said there will be no surprises between the two teams. But Fucito is certainly eager to show his old team what they’re missing.
“I’m excited,” Fucito added. “This is a game, obviously with the rivalry and everything it’s a huge game in itself, but it’s a little bit unique having played for the other side and being the first to do so in this rivalry. Anytime you go on the field you want to impress and do well, and that doesn’t change. It’s just this time the other team is pretty familiar.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.