PORTLAND, Ore. – Bragging rights. They're a luxury the Portland Timbers may not be used to.
But after winning last year’s Cascadia Cup – the first time Portland have won the regional derby with all three Pacific Northwest teams participating in the same league – that’s exactly what the Timbers and their loyal support will have when they make the trek north to face the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at CenturyLink Field (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
It’s added an entirely new level to the Portland-Seattle rivalry that is already widely considered the best in North American soccer.
“It’s pretty huge,” said Abram Goldman-Armstrong, a Timbers Army 107ist board member who accepted the Cascadia Cup from Seattle supporters after the Timbers beat Vancouver 1-0 on October 21. “It’s always pretty huge when you win Cascadia Cup. It’s a big deal, and those are the most anticipated matches of the season regardless of the league we’ve been playing in.
"I think that Cascadia Cup, honestly, to a lot of us means more than winning an MLS Cup because that’s something that we’ve been vying for a lot longer than the MLS Cup. It’s something that has the history. It’s heritage that you can’t really compare to anything else in North American soccer. It’s pretty amazing."
Despite a disappointing season overall, winning the Cup last year did a lot to transform Portland’s identity as Seattle’s little brother, especially considering Portland had done a lot of looking up to Seattle in the recent history of the rivalry.
Seattle preceded Portland in MLS by two years. And in Portland’s first year in the league in 2011 – despite playing the Sounders to a draw in their first MLS meeting – the Timbers fell short of Seattle’s expansion success by failing to qualify for the playoffs and also lost the Cascadia Cup to Seattle.
But in their first meeting of the 2012 season, the Timbers fired their first shot across Seattle’s bow as members of MLS. They defeated the Sounders 2-1 at a rocking JELD-WEN Field on June 24. They played to a 1-1 tie again at JELD-WEN on September 15.
Even after Seattle beat Portland 3-0 in their third and final game, this one played at CenturyLink Field, Portland still took the Cup thanks to two wins and a tie against Vancouver.
Goldman-Armstrong saw what it meant to Seattle when they transferred ownership of the Cup for the year on the pitch at BC Place.
“They were pretty pissed off about it,” he said. “Just the looks on the guys’ faces when they had to hand it over to us was pretty priceless. They were very unhappy. The rivalry with Seattle is just so intense.”
And that’s not lost on Timbers players and coaches as they look to transform the team under new head coach Caleb Porter. Success against Seattle is a key component.
“It’s a game certainly that I’ve had marked on the calendar because of the importance of it,” Porter said.
The former University of Akron coach experienced the rivalry in person twice as he visited both cities to watch former players in action before coaching at Portland was even a possibility. He was in Seattle for the 1-1 draw in 2011 and in Portland for the Timbers 2-1 win last year.
“A big part of me taking the job was the atmosphere in those games,” Porter said, “and obviously just overall the passion of the Cascadia region. And I have a great appreciation for the rivalry and for the fans and I’ve studied it and researched it. It’s something that means a lot to myself, our team, to the fans certainly.”
Porter has been so intrigued about the rivalry he even did some research into why former Seattle forward Roger Levesque is so hated in the Rose City.
“It’s important to me,” Porter said. “This is my club, I’m the head coach and I’m leading this club. Even though it’s a new team, new season and a whole fresh start and I want to be aware of it.”
New Timbers captain Will Johnson, one of a number of new acquisitions who joined the team over the offseason, said the Portland-Seattle rivalry was something he envied when he played for Real Salt Lake. The Sounders’ 3-0 win over Portland last year was not only notable for the rivalry, but the fact that CenturyLink drew more than 65,000 fans, good for second in the MLS all-time single-game attendance charts.
Johnson said it was just another feather in the cap of the rivalry and something he was proud of, despite not being a member of either team.
“I think at some level we’re all in this together,” Johnson said. “Major League Soccer on some level is a family of its own competing against the other leagues in the world for notoriety, professionalism and entertainment value.”
The next chapter in the historic rivalry will be written on Saturday, and Portland is hoping to keep chipping away at their underdog status with their first MLS win in Seattle and a first step in defending their Cascadia Cup bragging rights. Goldman-Armstrong will be a part of a 13-bus contingent making the trip from Portland.
“We hope the boys take it as seriously as we do,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.