Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers: Why many call it the best rivalry in MLS

Nico Lodeiro & Diego Chara - Seattle vs Portland - Aug. 23, 2020

When it comes to the Cascadia Cup rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers, it isn't just about close proximity between two cities.

When Seattle and Portland square off, there's genuine animosity to be found. They've never liked each other and never will like each other. These matches don't just illicit some of the loudest in-stadium atmospheres in MLS, they're also chippy and heated.

When the sides face off on Sunday at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+; TSN3 in Canada), the Timbers will be out for revenge after Seattle topped them 3-0 in their last matchup at Providence Park on August 23.

Roots of the Rivalry

The simple reason for everything mentioned above? History.

Unlike some of the more-recent MLS rivalries, Seattle and Portland have played these games for decades, dating back to their first NASL match in 1975. They've played 102 times, with each meeting always representing more than whatever the standings say. That many battles for Pacific Northwest bragging rights prompts authenticity that you'd be hard-pressed to match anywhere else across MLS.

MLS regular season

Seattle holds a 53-39-13 all-time series lead and two MLS Cup titles (plus four U.S. Open Cup ones) as compared to Portland's one MLS Cup triumph in 2015. Amid all those highs and lows, one of the rivalry's most-memorable games will always be on April 5 of the 2014 regular season.

The match at Providence Park included eight goals, and Portland led 4-2 at one point via a rare Diego Chara brace. But the Sounders roared back behind two late goals from US men's national team legend Clint Dempsey to cap his hat trick. It was ultimately a 4-4 draw, and those two headlines underscore a third-minute opener from Kenny Cooper. 

Just a wild, wild match from start to finish. You can learn more about that game here.

U.S. Open Cup

The origin of arguably Seattle's most-famous goal celebration started on the team bus. Seattle were on their way to Portland for a U.S. Open Cup match between the sides on July 1, 2009; it was Seattle's debut season in MLS and Portland were still a USL side. Roger Levesque hatched a plan with teammate Nate Jaqua for a goal celebration they'd perform should either player score.

Levesque put the plan into action 48 seconds into the match, when he scored the opener on a diving header from a Sanna Nyassi cross. Levesque and Jaqua then got to work, with the former miming a tree and the latter playing the role of lumberjack, "axing" him down and sending Levesque sprawling to the turf. The Sounders won the match, 2-1, with Levesque's celebration forever immortalized in Sounders lore and vilified in the eyes of Portland fans.

The Red Card Wedding

While Levesque's celebration represents a positive memory for Seattle in Open Cup play, the tournament also includes one of the darkest hours in club history, coming at the hands of their arch-rivals on June 16, 2015.

The Sounders had home-field advantage at Starfire Sports Complex, where they'd proven nearly impossible to beat in the tournament. Going into the match, Seattle never lost a home match at Starfire, a field with narrow dimensions and intimate seating, creating a suffocating atmosphere at the 4,500-seat venue. But the match would devolve into one of the most chaotic affairs in Open Cup history.

The fireworks started in the 69th minute, as Seattle captain Brad Evans was issued a second yellow card and sent off, reducing Seattle to 10 men. Sounders' head coach Sigi Schmid made a fateful sub, bringing on Dempsey. Seattle equalized in the 79th minute via Obafemi Martins, only for a crippling blow to surface in the 87th minute when Martins went down with a groin injury. Since Schmid already used all three subs and Evans had been sent off, Seattle were reduced to nine players.

After the Timbers scored the go-ahead goal in the 100th minute, Seattle midfielder Micheal Azira was sent off for an elbow that put Seattle down to eight men. Dempsey, who was upset with the call, then infamously removed referee Daniel Radford's notebook, tore it up and was immediately issued a red card of his own, leaving Seattle to play with seven men. The Timbers eventually added a third, taking the 3-1 victory. Dempsey's theatrical ejection remains as one of the rivalry's most iconic moments.

MLS Cup Playoffs

Out of all the memorable matchups, perhaps none were more dramatic than the 2018 Western Conference semifinal series.

After Raul Ruidiaz scored a huge road goal 10 minutes into the first leg at Providence Park, the Timbers took a 2-1 lead into the second leg in Seattle behind second-half goals from Jeremy Ebobisse and Sebastian Blanco. It'd stay that way until the 68th minute of the second leg, when Ruidiaz pulled Seattle level, 2-2, on aggregate and in position to advance via the away goals tiebreaker.

But Blanco put Portland right back in the driver's seat by scoring 10 minutes later, meaning Portland would advance. It also set the stage for Ruidiaz to score deep into second-half stoppage time, as the Peruvian sent the contest to extra time.

The madness continued into extra frames, as Timbers' playoff hero Dairon Asprilla put Portland back on top with a headed finish in the 93rd minute. But the Sounders equalized once again after being awarded a penalty kick for a handball, allowing captain Nicolas Lodeiro to level from the spot and send matters to penalty kicks. Portland won the shootout in memorable fashion, after it appeared as though several players thought they'd advanced on away goals, not realizing that extra time neutralized the tiebreaker.