SFC40: Roger Levesque, an unlikely hero for Sounders

Fan-favorite Roger Levesque won the hearts of many in his time playing with Seattle, not only for his lovable personality but also for his legendary status in the Sounders-Timbers Rivlary.

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In 72 matches played between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League, United Soccer League and Major League Soccer, 54 players have scored 95 goals for Seattle.  Many different players have donned the crown as the King of Cascadia and three Seattle players have netted hat tricks in the fiercest rivalry in U.S. soccer.

And while there have been legends and heroes born of the derby, no star has shined brighter than that of Roger Levesque.

In his 10 seasons with Seattle from 2003-2012, Levesque scored 10 goals to become the most reviled player in Portland and the most iconic player in Seattle when it comes to the rivalry.

“Maybe that’s why the Timbers Army hates me so much,” Levesque laughed in the contagious way that endeared him so much to fans in Seattle during his time as a player and beyond.

No goal was more iconic than his opening goal in the 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Sounders FC had just started its maiden venture in Major League Soccer and the USL’s Timbers wanted to show that they belonged at that level, too.  Seattle had a good start to the MLS season and was looking to carry that momentum in the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that brought much success to Seattle in previous years as the USL club played spoilers to many an MLS team.

Levesque quickly put those notions to rest with his goal 48 seconds into the match at Portland’s home stadium – then called PGE Park.

As emblematic as the goal was his celebration with forward Nate Jaqua, an Oregon native.  Jaqua served as the lumber jack, chopping down Levesque, who mimed a tree falling to the turf.

“I think that experience cemented my place in rivalry lore,” Levesque laughed.  “How ECS responded and continues to use that as a touchpoint, it became something those in Seattle could hold over Portland.  Especially since we went on to win the Open Cup and built that into the MLS rivalry.”

Levesque had his share of big goals in the USL era as well.  In 2004, he scored the series opening goal before Welton went on to tally two more in a 3-2 series win.  Then in 2005, he scored all three goals in a 3-0 trouncing on Seattle’s way to the first of two USL Championships over a three-year span.

Those goals were helpful in building a successful USL club, but the Open Cup goal did much more in bridging the gap to those longtime fans when Seattle went MLS.

“I think it’s a testament to the Sounders fans.  Just in speaking with those fans and connecting with the community – a lot of those fans came out to games with the NASL Sounders and they have those memories of seeing Pele play.  There are still a lot of positive associations with that,” said Levesque, who was always active in the community and recently finished his Master’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Washington.  “The rivalry does a great job of bringing back the connection to those fans and that adds to the emotion.”

As much as those moments have been cemented in the minds of the fans, the avid supporters in the stands play their role in the rivalry as well.

“From the field from a player’s perspective, there is no doubt that we appreciate all the efforts that go into continuing the rivalry from the fan’s perspective.  Nobody does it better than the ECS.  It adds to the excitement of the whole experience,” Levesque said.  “It’s part of the American sports psyche.  That heightened emotion is a lot easier to feel in the stadium and people keep coming.  There is something special to that.”

Sounders legend Jimmy Gabriel scored the first goal in the Seattle-Portland rivalry, converting a penalty in a 1-0 win for Seattle on May 2, 1975, Portland’s debut season in the NASL.

Others that had big scoring runs in the USL era included Marco Velez and Chad Smith, as well as future MLS stars Brian Ching and Sebastien Le Toux—all with three goals each.  In the MLS era, Eddie Johnson netted five goals to pass the four scored by Fredy Montero.

Derek Smethurst scored the first hat trick in series history on June 30, 1979 in a 5-1 win.  Peter Ward followed that up on July 24, 1982, with another hat trick, scoring five goals in two matches over eight days against the Timbers that year.  And Clint Dempsey had the third hat trick on April 5 of this year in a 4-4 draw.

With three regular season meetings per year on the schedule and chances to face off in the Open Cup and playoffs, Dempsey could very well find himself adding to that total.

“I don’t think my 10 goals is going to stand up much longer if Clint Dempsey continues to play in Seattle,” Levesque laughed again.  “And I hope not given that he’d be scoring goals against Portland.  Nothing would make me more happy.”

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