Portland Timbers: Old Foes

The Sounders and Timbers renew a decades-old rivalry in the US Open Cup on Wednesday. (Defender David Hayes courtesy of Portland Timbers)

From 1975-1982, the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers met 21 times in the North American Soccer League.  In the A-League and United Soccer Leagues from 2001-2008, they stared at each other from across the pitch 38 times.

On Wednesday at PGE Park in Portland, the two longtime rivals will meet for the first time since the Sounders joined Major League Soccer in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

With 34 years of history behind them, the fans of the two teams have taken the rivalry to a whole new level with increased fervor for the derby games.

“If you talk to the support clubs, it’s huge,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who played 10 games for the Timbers in 1989 after finishing his sophomore college season at University of Portland.  “I don’t think a lot of the players quite understand what this game is going to be.  I think when they show up on game day they’re going to realize real quick that there’s been some groups of fans that have really tried to turn this rivalry into a true, European hatred - which is kind of cool.”

Former USL Sounders Roger Levesque, Sebastien Le Toux, Taylor Graham, Sanna Nyassi, Zach Scott and Chris Eylander have all experienced the Cascadia rivalry firsthand.  But with a large majority of the team new to the rivalry, the question arose whether or not they had a full grasp of what they are getting into.

“All the USL guys do.  The old USL coach does,” said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who played in the NASL for the Sounders from 1980-1983 and was their head coach in the USL from 2002-2008.  “They will find out extremely quickly when the bus rolls up to the stadium and all the Portland fans start shouting things and making gestures.”

Added Levesque, “I think there are enough USL guys around and Brian Schmetzer has been around for years and he’s instilled some of that passion for the rivalry.  I think guys are taking it really seriously and looking forward to the game.”

Of all the players to play for Seattle through the years, Levesque may be the most colorfully opposed by the Timbers fans.  While playing for the Timbers in a post-season friendly with Toronto FC in 2007, Levesque was greeted to the field with a chorus of boos and a large sign reading, “True fans hate Levesque.” 

“I think I’m just the player that’s been around the longest,” Levesque smiled when asked why there was so much disdain for him in the Rose City.  “They have some passionate fans.  It’s been a rough history over the last five or six years.  The good thing about it is that they are passionate about their team.  It’s great for soccer.  Regardless of whether or not they’re picking on me, it’s good to see them out there.”

That loathing surprises Keller, though he would gladly not be their primary target.

“For whatever reason, Roger is the most hated - which is cool.  He can take that mantle.  I’ve got no problem with that,” Keller said.

The Sounders won’t have to contend only with jeers from the stands though, as several of Seattle’s support clubs have planned trips to Portland for the game.

“After the game yesterday a lot of people told me they were coming.  It’s a short distance and I know the fans love to come support us,” said Le Toux, who says he should be ready to start if called upon after coming on in the 67th minute because of an ankle injury in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids.

Along with the passion from both sides of the border, one other thing has remained consistent throughout the derby’s history.  At 13-8 in the NASL and 20-13-5 in the USL/A-League, the Sounders have been the victors more often than not.

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