PORTLAND, Ore. – Just how important is the Cascadia Cup?
If 66,000 fans – or more – are the judge, it’s pretty darn important. That’s the crowd estimate for Sunday’s Cascadia match at CenturyLink Field between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders (9 pm ET, ESPN), a match with no real implications other than the fact that it could decide the three-team, fan-based derby among MLS’ three Pacific Northwest teams.
The Timbers have long been out of the playoff race. The Sounders have already locked up a spot in the postseason, but are a long shot for the Supporters’ Shield.
“This is a huge game,” said Timbers striker Bright Dike, who has been a part of the rivalry since 2010. “It’s a chance for us to take that Cascadia Cup and get something out of the season. And any time you have a chance to beat the Seattle Sounders and take a cup away from them and give it to our fans it’s a great opportunity. And it would be a great positive for our team.”
Portland can win the Cup with a win or a tie. And among the throng of Sounders fans will most certainly be a large Timbers Army contingent. In the Timbers’ first MLS match against the Sounders last year, 10 tour buses ferried more than 500 fans to Seattle.
But this year, Joanne Couchman, the Timbers Army travel coordinator, is hoping for up to three times as many Portland supporters. And that’s not lost on the team.
“Our supporters demand that any time we go and play in any game we need to give 100 percent,” Portland assistant coach Sean McAuley said.
So after a highly disappointing season that started with such great expectations for the Rose City, there’s no questioning the importance of this chance to raise the Cup on Seattle’s turf.
“It would be wonderful,” Dike said. “We haven’t had the best season, but it would be something positive to take toward the next season. And that’s what we’re looking for, is to keep building on each performance.”
So just how will the Timbers – the side seemingly shouldering the bulk of the pressure heading into the game – respond to an environment few MLS teams have experienced? Portland have gone winless in 15 games away from JELD-WEN Field, a total that includes 11 losses.
WATCH: Timbers' last trip to Seattle
“I think the players rise to it,” Portland assistant coach Sean McAuley said. “In some respects you might have to put the reins on the players a little bit because they’re desperate to get out there and prove a point. We need to be right tactically, and we need to be right physically to prepare for that. But the environment that will be created should spur the players on.”
And, of course, there’s the motivation of conducting a Cascadia Cup celebration on enemy territory.
“They would absolutely hate it, and we would just love it,” Dike said. “It’s one of those things that would be wonderful. They would not like it at all, but we would absolutely love it.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.