SEATTLE — Every good rivalry needs a villain.
Roger Levesque is only too happy to oblige.
Even after retiring last year and turning into a mild-mannered graduate student, Levesque continues to play a larger-than-life role in the rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers, which will be renewed on Saturday (8 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I think it adds to the excitement and is an added element to that rivalry, which is proving to be even more exciting than everyone thought it would be,” Levesque told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s a lot of history. People haven’t forgotten. If it’s not me, it’s going to be someone else or something else moving forward. It just adds that intangible element that keeps people excited and pushing and focused on what’s next.”
How he became the player opposing fans loved to hate is not entirely clear.
Some of the explanations lie in the record books that document Levesque’s 29 matches and 10 goals scored against the Timbers. But there’s also an element of legend, stories that are impossible to entirely corroborate.
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One suggests Levesque stomped a goalkeeper. Another claims he intentionally elbowed Timbers defender Scot Thompson. There’s even an accusation that he made an inappropriate gesture toward the Timbers Army.
Although those stories are vehemently denied by anyone who knows Levesque, there’s also a certain amount of acceptance that they are part of what makes the rivalry so great.
“I’ve said it since Day 1, I know he didn’t do those things,” said Taylor Graham, one of Levesque’s best friends and a longtime Sounders teammate. “If you’re going to hate somebody, why not hate the nicest guy in the world, as opposed to someone who’s an actual jerk? That’s better from our perspective as Sounders fans.”
The Timbers’ distaste for Levesque was never more clear than during the offseason between the 2007 and '08 campaigns. The Sounders, who were already scheduled to join MLS in 2009, were considering the possibility of not fielding a USL team in 2008 and Levesque was looking for ways to stay busy.
The Timbers – in a bit of an olive-branch gesture – offered him a chance to suit up in an exhibition game against Toronto FC. At least some in Timbers Army were not pleased and held up a sign that read “Real fans hate Levesque.”
“That was the moment I knew things had gone completely wrong at some point with me and the Timbers Army,” Levesque said.
Levesque has been more than happy to do his part to fuel the passions, too.
Perhaps the best example came in 2009, when the first-year MLS Sounders were drawn against the USL Timbers in the third round of the US Open Cup. The Timbers won the right to host and managed to sell more than 16,000 tickets with about week’s worth of advance notice.
WATCH: Levesque's celebration best of 2011
Levesque wasted little time ruining the festive atmosphere, scoring just 48 seconds into the game. Making it even worse, he celebrated by posing as a tree and having teammate Nate Jaqua “chop” him down.
Even in retirement, Levesque has remained involved. During last year’s game at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders had Levesque announce the starting lineup.
“The whole experience was amazing in my eyes,” Levesque said. “One last time to be down on the field and feel that energy in that stadium in that situation. You truly don’t know what that feels like until you’re in it. When I was down there all the memories came flooding back. It was a great way for me to find some closure, I guess.”
As much animosity as there may be on the field, Levesque is convinced that’s where it stays.
“I love Portland,” Levesque said. “I love the city. I think Powell’s Bookstore is one of my favorite spots in the world to just hang out. My experience off the field has been nothing but positive with the people and the city. I speak very highly of that city in general and enjoy spending time there.”
Especially if it means he’s playing the villain.