The word ‘rival’ gets thrown around an awful lot these days. Politicians have rivals. Coffee shops have rivals. Department stores have rivals. There’s that dog at the dog park who picks on furry friend because maybe he’s a bit slower than the rest – he’s naturally a rival. Everyone has someone or something that is their ‘other side of the coin’.
In sports, this could not be more prominent. Every team, whether it’s a beer league softball team or the New York Yankees, has that other group that they simply cannot stand. When they play said team, the intensity is turned up a notch, the passion is unrelenting and desire and need to win is paramount.
I’ve been lucky to have experienced a number of fantastic sports rivalries in my lifetime. Growing up in the Midlands of England, the football battles between my hometown Leicester City and local foes Nottingham Forest and Derby County were always heated. My formative years were spent in Philadelphia where any victory over a team from New York or Washington D.C. were occasions worth creating a national holiday over (or at least that’s what my fellow Philly sports fans would tell you).
Despite this rich athletic upbringing, nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for what I’ve seen after having spent nearly a year in the Pacific Northwest.
I accepted the job as Digital Media Manager of the Seattle Sounders FC in late August of 2012 and subsequently packed up my life, including my slow-moving mutt, and made my way to the Emerald City by late-September. What a wide-eyed yuppy with an awful East Coast accent I was. I had no idea what I was in for.
My first Sounders match as an employee of the team (four days after my first day on the job)? Vancouver away. My second Sounders match as an employee of the team? Portland at home.
Talk about your “Welcome to the Pacific Northwest” trial by fire.
Two weeks and four points later and my eyes were opened. Everything I thought I knew about how intense a sports rivalry could be was replaced with echoing chants of 67,000 people, all adorned in varying shades of green. It was replaced with the unmatched fervor of the traveling support, in both matches. It was replaced by everything that makes this secluded yet in incredible part of the country so great – the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps football clubs.
The noise. The marching. The chants. The tifos...my, oh my, the tifos. Even the Twitter debates and trash talking that I would oversee as part of my job made this picture that much clearer to me. Every single aspect of being embroiled in this great soccer landscape made me realize that there is really nothing that compares to it, at least not what I had seen to that point.
In my lifetime (so far), I'd taken in the World Series at the original Yankee Stadium. I’d seen the English national team play at the original Wembley. I’d seen countless battles of NFC East foes in Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. And to be clear, this is not me bragging, this is me explaining my past so to further prove the excitement I have for my future.
What my immediate future holds (and one more time, at least, this calendar year) is a sporting event that I can honestly say is one that surpasses all previous events in terms of my personal excitement and emotional involvement.
The Seattle Sounders FC will host the Portland Timbers FC on Sunday. Seattle could win. Portland could win. We could see a draw. No matter the result, everything will be left on the field, as cliché as that sounds. Make no mistake though, as often as that phrase is said in and around your standard sports rivalries, it’s not always the case.
In this particular match, and the remaining Cascadia Cup matches this season and onwards, it can be said that no matter what team you support, the 22 men participating (and the thousands and thousands of fans watching) won’t hold a thing back.
Because of this, I consider myself a very lucky man to be in the position that I am in. Not just because I get to take in 34 Sounders matches a year from all across North America, but because I have had my eyes opened to things like #EBFG and Timber Joey and the shining beacon of soccer in this area – the Cascadia Cup.
A year ago, I thought I knew what it was like to be in the middle of a sports rivalry. Boy, was I wrong.
What remains now is a man who has been thoroughly enlightened by this great region (a region I proudly call home), a man who would argue with even the most ardent of fans that this is the epicenter of sports passion in the country if not the world, and a man who despite his most blatant efforts, can’t shake that unfortunate easterly inflection.