"Hate-watching" MLS Cup? Here's how fans of other teams will be cheering | SIDELINE

MLS Cup won’t be easy on Columbus Crew SC and Portland Timbers fans -- only one team can win, after all. But at least it’ll be straightforward at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 pm ET; ESPN, WatchESPN and UniMas in the US; TSN and RDS2 in Canada).

Crew SC supporters will pull on their best black and gold, traveling Timbers fans will wear their finest forest green, and both will root like heck for their respective clubs. Simple, easy. No questions.

But for fans of MLS' 18 other teams, deciding who to cheer for on Sunday is a little more convoluted. Plenty of factors come into play: Do any former fan favorites from their team now suit up for Portland or Columbus? Did a participant knock their club out of the playoffs? What about conference affiliation or local solidarity?

Even the seemingly obvious can get a bit tricky. Take, for instance, fans of Portland’s Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. If you’d expect anyone outside of Ohio to be pulling for Crew SC on Sunday, it’d be supporters of those two clubs.

Not so fast.

A significant segment of hardcore Vancouver supporters are pulling for the Timbers on Sunday, and former Sounders head coach and current club ambassador Alan Hinton is urging Seattle fans to root for Portland, too.

“I actually want Portland to win for many reasons, of course, but the No. 1 reason is that when we beat them in the Cascadia Cup next year we’ll be beating the champs,” said Whitecaps fan Mike Kruk, a member of the Rain City Brigade supporters group.  

“Whatever is good for the Cascadia region is good for us,” continued Kruk, who added that he felt a large number of Whitecaps fans will be joining him in rooting for Portland on Sunday. “If they win it creates more of burning passion for us to beat them, and might light some more fires in Seattle as well.”

Hinton echoed those sentiments in an interview published Wednesday on ProstAmerika.com, though a quick glance at the comments section of the SoundersFC.com article recapping his interview shows more than a few Seattle fans have dissenting opinions.

Sounders Alliance Council member Karl Picard isn’t as vehemently anti-Timbers as some of those commenters. But he did acknowledge Portland fans would never let their Seattle counterparts hear the end of it if the Timbers beat the Sounders to an MLS Cup title.

“At the end of the day it’s really hard to root for your arch-rival, and while there are times you would cheer for Portland, in the general MLS Cup, it’d be hard to root for them,” said Picard.

“It’d be like that itch you can’t scratch kind of thing, sitting there in the back of your mind that they got it first. But as long as we win more of them over a long period of time, I don’t think it matters too much.”

Meanwhile, fans of the Chicago Fire, one of Crew SC's biggest rivals, aren’t viewing Sunday’s match-up with any such ambiguity. Plenty of Fire fans would root against Columbus in Cup, regardless of the opponents. Throw in the fact that they're facing the Timbers, and, for some Chicago fans, that anti-Columbus animosity only ramps up.

The Section 8 Chicago supporters group actually enjoy a long-standing friendship with Portland’s Timbers Army, one that dates back to 2004. That friendship, and Section 8’s corresponding affinity for the Timbers, is fueling their rooting interest on Sunday just as much as their distaste for Crew SC.

“I’d like to see Columbus lose. As a Fire fan, nobody likes Columbus here,” said Section 8 chairman Dan Martin. “I have a fair number of links on the Portland side, just because of the shared history and friendship between some of the fans of both teams.… And again, I just really don’t want Columbus to win.”

“Kei Kamara is scoring a ton of goals, they’ve got one of the best players in the league in Ethan Finlay, so the Crew are doing really good things,” added Section 8 member Patrick Stanton. “But it just so happens that when I root, I root for the Timbers. If it’s not the Fire, it’s got to be them.”  

Of course, there are plenty of fan bases that don’t harbor any animosity towards – or affinity for – Columbus or Portland. How should they pick a side on Sunday?

The rooting interest of New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas supporters will likely be informed at least a little bit by their losses in the Conference Championship series. Some Dallas fans might also perhaps throw a little extra weight behind Crew SC due to a prior altercation between FCD head coach Oscar Pareja and Timbers boss Caleb Porter.

Fans of other teams, meanwhile, are pushing aside any negative feelings towards Portland or Columbus in order to pull for players that once meant a lot their club. Defender Nat Borchers, who arrived in Portland last offseason in a trade from Real Salt Lake, is still beloved in Utah. Many RSL supporters will look past any Western Conference bitterness towards the Timbers to pull for the 34-year-old center back.

“I’m 100 percent pulling for Portland and it’s Nat Borchers-driven, almost entirely,” said Jake Simons, a longtime RSL season ticket-holder. “I love that he’s been able to find success post-RSL. Of all the guys that have left over the past few years, I think he might be the most deserving to be in that position again. Just the classiest guy.”

Similarly, many fans of Sporting Kansas City, who lost to Portland in an epic Knockout Round penalty kick shootout this post-season, will be pulling for former fan-favorite Kei Kamara and Columbus this weekend. Kamara spent four-and-a-half years in Kansas City, but missed out on the club’s 2013 MLS Cup triumph after moving to English club Middlesbrough that summer.

Sporting KC supporters that remember the Wizards days will no doubt save a little room in their heart for Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury. The veteran played eight seasons in Kansas City before he was selected by the Timbers in the Expansion Draft, leaving KC just before the Sporting rebrand.

“I would guess that most Sporting supporters will be rooting for Columbus considering the fresh wound still healing from Portland,” longtime Kansas City fan Isaac Knopf said in an email. “Also, post-rebranding fans will be more likely to recognize and cheer for Kamara than Jewsbury. I’ll be wishing the best for both of them.”

Regardless of any allegiances or rivalries, or any of the reasons behind them, every neutral is hoping for one thing on Sunday: a good, entertaining match.

“Ultimately, I want MLS Cup to be a good game that’s entertaining to the average fan. A close game would be good, with a 3-2 type of score line,” Picard said. “At the end of the day, I’m not cheering that hard for either side, I’m just hoping for a good game.”