Peruse the comments section concerning Brian Schmetzer’s brief foray into comedy for evidence that five decades of history have offered neither the Seattle Sounders nor the Portland Timbers clear-cut superiority in Major League Soccer’s top rivalry.
The banter in the comments on that page is akin to the kind of my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad squabbles you had in elementary school. Most of it dates back to last season, when the Sounders — like it or not, Timbers supporters — earned their first MLS Cup rings despite surviving the most lopsided MLS Cup final in history.
And, in doing so, the Sounders matched their Cascadia Cup rivals’ MLS Cup haul after the Timbers hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in Columbus only a year before. So much for irrefutable bragging rights.
Once again, the top derby in MLS lacks a clear bully.
We’re left with quips — albeit amusing ones — from coaches and debates between rival supporters in the Pacific Northwest that center around recent results.
These sides have been seesawing since the mid-1970s – with neither able to claim clear and consistent dominance.
Recipe for superiority
Can the Sounders or Timbers truly say — without a cheeky grin — they’re the top side in Cascadia?
Not yet. And Saturday’s meeting – the 18th such occasion in an MLS regular season (Seattle hold the edge at 8W-5L-4D) – at CenturyLink Field (2:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes; TSN2) will only assert temporary superiority until, well, next month, when they meet in the U.S. Open Cup (Tues., June 13). Then they’ll meet again two weeks later (Sun., June 25) as part of the season's first Heineken Rivalry Week.
They’re big occasions, sure. But not the sort of drop-the-mic boasting rights these clubs continue to chase.
How, then, should derby superiority be defined in a league marked by parity? What are the Timbers and Sounders fighting for after claiming MLS titles in back-to-back seasons? And what will it take to get there?
First and foremost, it starts with series dominance – the kind of bossing that saw Manchester United stay unbeaten against Manchester City throughout the 1990s. Runs like that crush the souls of opposing fans who lose all hope when they repeatedly drop points to rival teams.
That said, league results, no matter the streak, only go so far in terms of asserting unequivocal superiority.
A disparity in league titles usually tips scales. Trophy case comparisons are the be-all and end-all when it comes to derby glory.
And, no, Sounders fans, U.S. Open Cup titles – of which Seattle has four – don't yet factor prominently enough to tip the balance, in my opinion even though the Sounders did beat the Timbers on the way to three of those four USOC trophies.
Still, the accumulation of MLS Cups takes time – decades even. We could still be having a “Who’s better?” debate in 2050.
The Holy Grail
It’s why I contend a CONCACAF Champions League title, and the ensuing appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup, is what the Sounders and Timbers should be chasing in the immediate term. It’s the would-be ace-in-the-hole for a pair of clubs whose fans are not shy about gloating.
The accompanying CCL prestige, the visibility it brings, would cement one side as top dog in the derby – and in all of MLS – for a long, long time.
Remember that early next year when the Sounders take their shot at pursuing continental glory via the new Champions League format.
Until then, “Soccer City USA” is just a moniker bestowed by home supporters rather than a phrase truly earned via results.
It’s as legitimate as “Lumberman.”