Over time in Major League Soccer, some teams have developed rivalries with other teams.
The Rocky Mountain Cup has been a hotly contested meeting between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids in recent years. The teams in the northeast – New York, New England, DC United, Toronto, and now Philadelphia, have enjoyed some fan interaction at their matches. There is also the SuperClasico (Chivas USA and LA Galaxy) and California Clasico (LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes) and several other matchups that have become contentious on and/or off the field.
Nothing, though, can prepare the league for the Cascadia Cup rivalry.
While the Vancouver Whitecaps complete the triangle, it is the Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers that have become the cornerstones for MLS derbies.
Saturday, the two northwest clubs will meet for the first time on the MLS stage, though it is a rivalry that dates back to 1975, when they first met in the North American Soccer League. Through league changes and a hiatus from 1982-2001, the rivalry has reached all new heights that will be put on display at Qwest Field in front of a national TV audience on ESPN2.
“I think it’s peaking. The amount of energy and enthusiasm that the Portland fans have brought to an already existing rivalry and to an already existing team that has done it first – meaning our fans, our crowd, our record, our Open Cups, our victories – it adds to it,” said Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who is the lone tie to all three levels of play for the two clubs in the NASL, A-League/USL and MLS. “It gives us something to make sure that we’re not complacent and we’re continuing to try and push up and onward because there are guys nipping at our heels.”
Although it has become the focus of the media and the fans over the past week, head coach Sigi Schmid has tried to shield the team from the hype machine surrounding Saturday’s match. He would prefer that his team provide the energy for the crowd to feed off of.
“You don’t want to get into the hype,” Schmid said. “It’s something that should be in the back of their mind. It’s Portland week and that should get them excited. If I have to spend a big amount of time trying to impress that on them, then they haven’t been living in the city long enough.”
The connection Schmetzer – a lifelong Seattle native who played for the Sounders in the NASL and coached the club in the A-League and USL – and others in the Sounders organization have to the history of the rivalry has ensured that nobody on the Seattle roster goes into the match on Saturday without knowing what to expect.
The players, coaches and staff have a deep-seeded respect for the history of the derby because of the tales relayed by Schmetzer, goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra and players Roger Levesque, Taylor Graham and Zach Scott.
“Schmetzer has instilled this rivalry since day one,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “Schmetzer’s been on tilt for three weeks now looking forward to this game. He’s let everybody know the importance, for sure.”
“They try to make it like this,” he said. “They travelled in numbers and our fans travelled in numbers going north. For us, that was probably the closest thing, but it won’t mirror this in any way.”
Added Schmid, “I think Chivas-Galaxy is a rivalry that the teams are in close proximity to each other in L.A. but it’s more a rivalry that people tried to create with the Honda trophy and people tried to make it into rivalry. This is a rivalry that you don’t have to make into a rivalry. It already exists. It’s been there. It’s been there for the past 30-plus years. It’s nothing that you’ve got to contrive. It’s nothing that you’ve got to whip into a frenzy. It’s there.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 pm, but the pre-game festivities will be prevalent around Pioneer Square as early as 2 pm.