It all started with Peter Withe. The bearded, sweat-band wearing centre forward who went on to score the winner in the 1982 European Cup Final for Aston Villa scored the Timbers first ever goal against Seattle Sounders in Portland Timber’s 2-1 victory back in 1975. Withe was a hit with the Portland fans who referred to him as the “Wizard of Nod”. A year later when the sides met again, Seattle could boast the legendary skills of Harry Redknapp and Geoff Hurst up top. Today, the English contingent consists solely of Liam Ridgewell, former West Ham trainee and now campaign of the Timbers.
Forty three years later and the two sides were meeting for the 100th competitive time on a beautiful sunny day in mid-May (there’s a couple of great videos commemorating the occasion here and here from both sides of the state line). The intense rivalry between the two sides has never let up and noise coming from both sides had been at an intense level since an hour before the game started. Due to the huge distances in the US, there’s few games where supporters travel in numbers. Even in New York where the two clubs are less than 20 miles (although technically in different states), the rivalry is muted to say the least. However, on the Pacific North-West Coast, 175 miles is nothing and so the games have always been played out in front of both sets of fans. Add in Vancouver Whitecaps and you have a hot-bed of football. The Cascadia Cup was introduced in 2004 by the fans of the three clubs and awarded annually to the club with the best record during the season against each other, with the current holders being Portland after three wins and a draw from the six games they played.
I’ve been to some pretty insipid MLS games before, where atmosphere was non-existent. The best I had come across was a New York Red Bulls versus DC United game a few years ago, although just a few weeks later when I returned to Harrison, New Jersey for the RB game against KC Sporting there was no more than a thousand in the stadium (due to the Yankees being at home some 20 miles away apparently). So I was looking forward to sampling some European-style atmosphere.
Distance makes rivalries hard in the US. There’s no love lost between the Yankees and the Red Sox in baseball, nor between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL but in reality it is a rivalry played out in and by the media, as few hardcore away fans make the respective trips. And for those that do, they seem to be able to sit among the home fans albeit with some gentle ribbing.
For The Timber Army and the Emerald City Army, the performance off the pitch of the fans is almost as important as the result on it. Both sets of fans were in fine voice as the kick-off approached, although they both seemed keen to ‘build a bonfire’ and put each other on the top. Poor old Vancouver were stuck in the middle of both versions, a rare thing that both sets of fans could agree on!
Providence Park is still a work-in progress with construction underway to make it an even more atmospheric stadium than it is today. The curve behind the goal, home to the Timbers Army, is being extended around to mean 3/4 of the ground will be covered, just leaving the final end, a very low terrace area, currently with ‘bleacher’-like seats.
At the appointed kick-off time (1pm) there as no sign of any players. I’m used to this now with US Sports but still have no idea why. At 1:03pm the players emerged (from very separate tunnels), sang the national anthem, the crowd waved their scarves and finally the game kicked off at 1:09pm. The Timber Army, led by a couple of Capo’s at the front of the stand kept the beat up during the opening period as the sun beat down on them. Above the entrance to the tunnel and below the Timber Army was a flag in the colours of the state of Oregon with the latin phrase Oderint Dum Metuant – “let them hate so long as they fear”. Who could hate such a passionate display of support? OK – apart from the Sounders fans who were doing a pretty impressive job themselves of making themselves heard.
The first half was a tense affair. Portland looked to stretch the play and tried to get their two wide men behind the Seattle defence, whilst the Sounders seemed happy to play on the break. Timber’s star man, Argentine Diego Valeri was singled out for some “special” treatment from the away side before he had the best chance of the game when he pulled the ball wide after a swift break. At the other end Clint Dempsey fluffed his lined in front of goal after Nouhou Tolo’s shot had flashed across the area.
Half-time and all square.
Seattle started the second period the brighter of the two sides and Tolo was played in within the first minute but his shot was easily saved by Timbers keeper Attinella. At the other end Valeri looked odds-on to score before a last-gasp intervention from Marshall ten yards out. Andy Polo, who I know is Peruvian from my Panini collection (the most un-Peruvian name you ever come across) and he came close to scoring, curling an effort from just inside the box but it was beaten away from Stefan Frei in the Sounders goal.
Once again the howls of disapproval were reserved for another foul on Valeri as he broke at speed and was wrestled to the floor by Norwegian Magnus Wolff-Eikrem, who got a yellow card for his impudence. By this stage the heat seemed to have drained the effort and energy out of both sides, seemingly happy to settle for a draw. With ten minutes to go Swede Samuel Armenteros was played in and found himself clear on goal. He took one stride into the area but then fell, slightly theatrically, under a challenge. Looked a clear penalty to me but the referee was having none of it, although didn’t feel the tumble warranted a card for simulation.
And then finally we had a goal. Armenteros robbed a Seattle defender in midfield and played a neat ball behind the centre-back for Blanco to run onto and he slide the ball past Frei and into the net. Unsurprisingly the reaction from the home fans was deafening, although the Seattle fans certainly weren’t silent. A chorus of a Portland remix of Anarchy in the UK broke out with the Timber Army bouncing around the stand as the game went into six minutes of injury time.
Ninety-five minutes gone and the referee was alerted to something that had happened in the build-up to a Seattle attack with Leerdam laying prostrate on the floor. He ran over to the monitor behind the goal line, ran back to the middle of the pitch and gave a drop-ball. Not quite sure what that was all about. And then it was all over. A hard-fought victory for the home and the party would go on into the afternoon in the sunshine. The Sounders went over to thank their fans for playing their part but it was the green flares that belched out into the air from the Timbers fans to celebrate their victory and bragging rights until the two sides met again next month.