VANCOUVER, B.C.—When it comes to rivalry games, the Vancouver Whitecaps are spoiled for choice.
They have their Canadian ones, and as last week's barnstormer in Toronto demonstrated, those can be quite tasty. But two key ingredients of an intense rivalry are history and proximity, and when it comes to those, Vancouver's Cascadia Cup derbies against the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders rise to the top.
The Whitecaps-Sounders rivalry goes all the way back to 1974 and the days of the North American Soccer League's original iteration. The Whitecaps-Timbers rivalry dates to a year later. Both were stoked further during the teams' pre-MLS days in the USL and the Cascadia Cup was born.
Away games in Seattle and Portland are the ones most eagerly awaited by Vancouver fans when the schedule comes out, quickly circled in the calendar, vacation time booked off and road trip plans made. This weekend throws up the latest of them as the 'Caps head south to face the Timbers on Sunday in a Heineken Rivalry Week showdown (4:30 pm ET; ESPN, TSN).
With so much history between the three teams and their supporters, it's a hard choice for Vancouver fans to say which one means the most to them and which Cascadia rivalry game is the most important.
But what about the Whitecaps players? Which game do they get most up for? Against the Sounders or against the Timbers? Which one has more meaning to them and why?
Well, we asked some of them just that – and here's what they told us:
Whitecaps goalkeeper and derby enthusiast
"I like the Portland one. Going down there, especially, is a big place to play, but when we play them at home, it just feels more special. I think we always have games where we challenge each other, especially last year having the first ever playoff games against them. That was a big game, so I kind of feel Portland is that little bit bigger but both of them are fantastic."
Former Timber, current 'Cap
"I've played in all three derbies and for me, I must say coming to MLS first [with Portland], what I rank first is the Portland-Seattle derby. History-wise, it's one of the biggest, but I think we're getting there as well [in Vancouver]. Portland-Vancouver is more a rivalry than Vancouver-Seattle. But it's all in Cascadia and I think it's good for soccer to have that because there's not many places around the world that you can go hundreds of miles separating and still the fanbase is tremendous. It's just amazing and for me, every derby day you play in, it's a thing you'll remember for the rest of your career. Me, [in Seattle] I had the pleasure to play in front of 67,000 with Portland and I had the pleasure to play with 50,000 with Vancouver and score two goals. So that's something that's really memorable for me to have when the career is done. Derbies are always the best."
"Definitely I would say Portland. Just because the road trip and Portland's a great city. Everybody looks forward to going to Portland. I don't know why, but there's something different [about those games]. It's very exciting. Maybe it could be the fans, I don't know, but usually the games are more intense than when we play Seattle. I would definitely say Portland is the biggest one for me."
Six-year Cascadia Cup veteran, and goal machine vs. POR
"That is so hard to say. We've had more success it feels like against Seattle, but for me, having said that, I want to beat Portland so bad. Always, and in every game. Maybe it's just me being bitter because we've lost to them a few times, but I want to turn the tides and be a consistent winner over Portland and play well against Portland and just get results because they have, as the record shows, maybe had our number. So that's kind of more meaningful to me to go Portland away and get results or get wins at home like we just did."
Harvey did also note that all the success both he and the Whitecaps have had in Portland of late helps stoke the rivalry.
"I think that does help a little bit. Selfishly, I enjoy those games because for some reason the ball seems to bounce to me and I get some chances and I've put some away. It's been memorable in that regard, but again, we need to get the results and we need to be consistent in doing that."
So a unanimous decision from the players: It's the Portland games that do it for them, but what about Vancouver's coaching staff? The man in charge of the Whitecaps has a contrary view.
Whitecaps head coach
"Both are very fierce derbies, but they're different in some ways. With Portland, there's an intense rivalry, but with Seattle, because they're seen as the 'bigger' organization, and the ones who probably spend probably more than the other two Pacific Northwest teams, then they're seen as the big fish. When we play against Seattle, we know that.
"There's not hundreds of big teams in the league. Seattle are a big team and we want to try and compete against the big teams, so there's a slightly different thought when we play both derby games but it doesn't matter. It's 90 minutes of football: who turns up, who performs best. They're always competitive games that have got meaning. Who's willing to fight and scrap and run will win those games."
Whitecaps assistant coach
"They're both interesting games. I don't know if I would class one as better or not, that's just my personal opinion. They've both had different parts in how we think going in to the games. When we play them at home, we've got the supporters creating a great atmosphere for us and the whole stadium. We love playing them at home. When it's away from home, it's two great stadiums again, where you're thinking about that European atmosphere as well. We enjoy going to both places and it's classed as Cascadia, with three teams going for this extra trophy."
Whitecaps goalkeeping coach
"Portland. That is a fortress, louder and there's more hatred. Seattle I feel just have this big clap thing and the numbers. Portland, that's more war, more fight in it. I love that."