Distinguishing how long a Sounders FC fan has been following the various incarnations of the Sounders could be as simple as asking one question.
Which two teams are Seattle’s biggest rivals?
Answering anything other than Vancouver and Portland is a quick indication that the fan joined late in the process.
Even Sounders FC owner Drew Carey knows, telling the Vancouver Sun that Vancouver, Portland and Seattle will be the “Triangle of Death — the greatest sports rivalry in the country.”
Any doubt of those rivalries will likely be quelled within the next seven days, as the Sounders FC will face the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday, March 6 at 4 pm inside Swangard Stadium of Burnaby, British Columbia, then will host the Portland Timbers on Thursday, March 11 at 6 pm in the Community Shield match at Qwest Field.
Few would know better than Schmetzer, who played with the Sounders in the NASL and A-League and coached in the USL before joining the current staff as Sigi Schmid’s top assistant for the inaugural season. Schmetzer recalls some pretty heated meetings on the field between the Sounders and their I-5 rivals to the north and south.
“Early on when they had reserve teams, it was life or death. Here you had a bunch of young guys that were trying to get into the first team on all three teams. Some of those reserve games were bloody affairs. Sometimes it was good soccer, but it was always hard soccer and it was kill or be killed,” Schmetzer said. “The soccer got a little better at the first team level, but there was always an underlying tone of disdain for each other.”
When Schmetzer took the coaching reins for the USL club in 2002, he was reminded very quickly of the intensity of the rivalry when four of his first five matches were against Portland and Vancouver. All four of those games ended in victories. In fact, the Sounders have generally had a stronghold on the rivalries. Against Vancouver, Seattle is 54-42-15 in regular season and playoff games. They also hold a 34-21-5 advantage over the Timbers in the all-time series, including a 2-1 win in the US Open Cup in their last meeting last year.
Alan Hinton is another former Sounder who has long been connected to the rivalry. The current Sounders FC broadcaster played and coached with the Vancouver Whitecaps and coached the Sounders in the NASL and A-League levels. As tense as things were on the field when the Sounders met either the Whitecaps or the Timbers, he recalls they were doubly festive in the stands.
“It was very exciting … thousands of fans came from Portland and Vancouver and cheer and support their team. Then of course all of the Sounders fans would go on the road,” Hinton said, noting that the stakes will only get higher as the Whitecaps and Timbers join Major League Soccer in 2011. “The bragging rights are going to get immense. It’s going to get absolutely marvelous.”
Schmetzer agreed that the fans have always been at the center of the rivalry. In recent years, supporter groups for the three clubs even began awarding the Cascadia Cup to the team with the best head-to-head record between the three teams. In its six years, Vancouver won three times, Seattle won twice and Portland won last year, though Seattle’s wins over Vancouver in the preseason and Portland in the Open Cup were not included in the standings.
Seattle, with their average attendance clearing 30,000 in their inaugural MLS season, has taken the lead in the newest stage in the rivalry and set a good example for the other two clubs to follow when they join MLS in 2011.
“They’ll be trying to emulate Seattle and they may not be far off because they're both great soccer towns. It’s going to happen again for certain,” Hinton said. “The beautiful thing about the English Premier League and the leagues in Italy and Spain and Germany is that most of the games are within driving distance for the fans. That is the case here now. But they’ll go further than that and they’ll make a weekend of it. It’s going to be a great festival weekend, I think.”
The rivalry continues this weekend at Swangard Stadium and kickoff is set for 4 pm PT on Saturday. The game will be live-blogged at www.SoundersFC.com.
Tickets are still available for the Community Shield match on Thursday, March 11 against Portland online at www.SoundersFC.com, by calling 800-745-3000, or at all Ticketmaster outlets and the Qwest Field Box office. General Admission tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth (6-17). Children under the age of six are free. Proceeds from the match will benefit the Sounders' four community partners.