There’s a saying that dates back nearly 2,500 years—attributed to Kautilya’s Sanskrit military book The Arthashastra—that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” sometimes invoked when fans of ousted playoff teams justify rooting for whomever their triumphant rivals might be playing.
But there’s another more modern saying attributable to the rise of Facebook as a social network—“it’s complicated”—that more accurately assesses where some MLS fanbases find themselves in relation to the 2016 MLS Cup between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC (8 pm ET, FOX, UniMás | TSN1/3/4, RDS in Canada).
Though Montreal is the closest MLS team to Toronto geographically (beating Columbus by just two miles), there’s a linguistic, political, and cultural gulf that separates them, and the intense Toronto-Montreal rivalry prevents Impact fans from wishing TFC well.
“The only variation in opinion you'll find amongst 1642 Montreal members is the level of distaste—and, for many, the hatred—felt towards Toronto,” says 1642 Montreal co-founder Ali Shayan. “There is a level of arrogance and snobbery that only Toronto knows how to do best.”
“We almost considered ringing our beloved North Star Bell for every Seattle goal,” adds co-founder Anthony Lizzi, which would be all the more awesome if they could actually get the most iconic symbol of Impact fandom into BMO Field. “But in the end, we came to our senses and decided it will never ring in spite, but forever for Bleu-Blanc-Noir goals and wins.”
The other Canadians in the mix, Vancouver Whitecaps fans, are at a particularly troubling nexus. They’re rivals with the other two Cascadia teams, and if the Sounders win Saturday, Vancouver becomes the only Cascadia team without a Philip F. Anschutz Trophy, just a year after the Portland Timbers became the first Pacific Northwest team to win the title. But they also, like Impact fans, draw upon a keen cross-Canadian rivalry with Toronto that extends far beyond soccer.
Paul Sabourin-Hertzog, vice president and director of internal communications for Whitecaps supporters group Vancouver Southsiders, reasons that ‘Caps fans will root against TFC “because of our rivalry with them, including many years of unbelievable heartbreak, in the Voyageurs Cup competition,” and wishes them “the agony of watching and hearing another team celebrating a Cup win in their home stadium.”
On the other hand, he’s not partial to the Sounders, noting that “they are our closest geographical rival,” and have endured a history of “their insufferable skull-adorned clown posse celebrating gutting wins in BC Place.”
He ultimately hopes “a deep freeze will hit Toronto and encrust BMO Field with four inches of ice and a foot of snow so we won't have to be put through the indignity of watching either team win,” before adding, self-effacingly, “but Whitecaps supporters have never been that lucky.”
Timbers fans, about to end their year-long claim as MLS champions, are less equivocal; the Timbers Army’s Lexi Stern notes that MLS and Canadian national team veteran midfielder Will Johnson—a Timber last year and a Red this year—tips the balance for a fanbase that’s generally resolutely anti-Sounder in everything. “In this dumpster fire of a 2016 season, some of us sure did find ourselves missing him,” she said of Johnson. “He's the kind of player who gets under everyone's skin on the opposing team, so you want him on your side.”
Timbers fans in Seattle concur with their fellow fans to the south. Brenden Bullock of TA:CO (Timbers Army: Covert Operations), the Seattle-based contingent of Timbers fans who maintain their PTFC allegiance behind enemy lines, notes that he’d only root for the Sounders in cases where it would benefit the Timbers directly, such as playoff qualification scenarios.
Yet, he reasons, “It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Seattle won. Cementing Cascadia as the MLS's best region is a good thing and I would welcome that. We will always be the first in Cascadia to have won the Cup and that's something they can never say.”
For fellow TA:CO member Mickey Rivera, it’s guaranteed that someone in his household will be satisfied with the outcome: either Mickey himself, pulling for Toronto, or his fiancée, Tessa Christensen, a Sounders fan and Emerald City Supporters member. The two met when she visited Mickey’s roommate, a childhood friend of his from Fargo, North Dakota, in 2014—the weekend of a Timbers/Sounders match and the World Cup final. They bonded over soccer, and maintained a long-distance relationship before she moved to Seattle to be with him.
“We respect each other's passion,” Rivera says of their rival allegiances. “She makes efforts to watch matches with me, and I do with her. We banter in a friendly way, and most importantly, we don't watch matches between our teams together.”
Christensen adds, “We have a wall where we add our scarves, and we both get equal space on it.”
Incidentally, she wasn’t pulling for the Timbers in last year’s MLS Cup, invoking the “Midwest is best” perspective gained in her formative years to align with Columbus. Plus, she figured Timbers fans “would be insufferable if they won . . . and I was right.”
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