Few can say that they know the rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers quite like Brian Schmetzer.
Born in Seattle, he started his professional career in 1980 as a 17-year-old alum of Nathan Hale High School, going virtually straight from his graduation ceremony to the training field of the Sounders in the North American Soccer League.
He was the head coach of the Sounders from 2002-2008 in the A-League and USL, moving on to be Sigi Schmid’s top assistant with the inception of the club at the Major League Soccer level. Few know the rivalry more and even fewer are looking forward to Saturday when the Sounders FC meet the Timbers for the first time in MLS more than Schmetzer.
The match signals the continuation of 36 years of history that started when the Timbers joined the Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps in the North American Soccer League in 1975. It’s a derby that has featured 61 matches, with Seattle holding a distinct advantage in the head-to-head series at 34-21-6. Most recently, the Sounders have eliminated the Timbers from the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, winning in 2009 and 2010 at PGE Park in Portland on the way to winning the Open Cup title both years.
And while Schmetzer is the only person on either side to have played or coached in the rivalry at all three levels – his first win as head coach came at the expense of the Timbers, a 2-0 road win for the Sounders in 2002 – he isn’t the only one in the Sounders locker room with a lengthy history against the Timbers. Taylor Graham, Zach Scott and Roger Levesque have 67 matches against the Timbers between them.
Graham has two goals in 11 matches, with both scores coming in one match in 2005. Scott has 29 matches, notching a goal in 2006 and an assist in 2005. Levesque, meanwhile, is easily the greatest nuisance to the Timbers and their supporters. In 27 matches, he tallied ten goals and three assists, including some of the most impactful goals in the clubs USL history.
In addition to the three goals he scored in the 2005 playoffs in a first round series against the Timbers that left Portland going home for the off-season while the Sounders rocketed to the USL championship, Levesque also scored in the first minute of a US Open Cup match against the Timbers in 2009, giving the hordes of Sounders FC fans who traveled to PGE Park ample reason to celebrate.
It is for that reason, and not fictitious stories created by the Timbers supporters, that Levesque has become the central symbol in the biggest rivalry in US soccer.
“He’s scored quite a bit of important goals in a lot of these games,” Graham said. “He’s easy to hate – he’s a nuisance, he’s a pest. He never stops working.”
Levesque, for his part, embraces the vitriol aimed his way from the Timbers Army.
“Any kind of back and forth just shows the passion of both cities and both fan groups – how involved they are and how excited everybody is for this game coming up on Saturday,” he said.
That, Levesque said, won’t make the Timbers any less prepared for the magnitude of the rivalry than the Sounders, though.
“There are enough guys around in the organization who have been involved in it. They feel it to, the last couple years with the Open Cup, with us knocking them out. There are some of those guys left over and I think the rivalry will be there, regardless,” he said. “There’s definitely passion in the players. On the field, I think it’s going to get a little bit nasty. I think players feel that intensity and pride. All the guys on our time have pride wearing the Sounders symbol and I know there guys do as well for the Timbers. It will start on the field and definitely carry over into the fan groups.”
In preparation for the match, the Emerald City Supporters will hold the Brougham Block Party from 2-7 at Fuel Sports Bar near Occidental Park on Saturday. For more information on the party, click here.
The match will kick off at 8 pm, with television coverage live on ESPN2 and radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.