The American soccer world turned its eyes from Maracana to Cascadia Sunday. The MLS fixture setters hit a masterstroke scheduling their flagship rivalry on the coattails of the World Cup final. The league and sport are growing exponentially and MLS has finally found an identity. Since its inception in 1996, MLS has struggled to find its bedrock support. The league originally courted the Latin population and soccer moms but recently has been seeing the bearded thirty-something on the side.
MLS makes strange bedfellows. Ever since the emergence of urban stadia and the embrace of supporter culture, the original desired demographic, suburban soccer moms and their broods, has grown more and more marginalized. Maybe this is hard to fathom in Sandy, Utah or Bridgeview, Illinois, but Cascadia is at the vanguard of this transition. All three cities, Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, have downtown temples of soccer where hordes of tattoo’ed, pint-swilling fans throng to their club. It makes for an almost comical juxtaposition: rowdies stumbling from pubs to join pig-tailed suburban cherubs at the game. Sunday amongst the dives and greasy spoons of Sodo, with all the cameras of ESPN fixated on the returned American heroes Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, the league finished waffling and finally embraced the hooligan.
Soccer lives in the Northwest. Supporter culture, for lack of a better term, grows strong amongst craft beers, coffee and artisanal cheeses. The organic growth of the Seattle-Portland rivalry is just another example of the region’s fecundity. Seattle-Portland has become the taproot of the league. The supporters truly hate each other’s clubs. It is more than the Cascadia Cup, more than Western Conference supremacy; it is about hurting the other team.
I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers.
The rivalry was recently at a shaky equilibrium. Portland got Seattle good last year knocking us out of the playoffs. They can savor that for a looong time. But vengeance is a dish best served cold and the Sounders are slowly and methodically avenging that loss.
Things looked grime back on April 5th. Portland was on the verge of their first win of the season, holding a 4-2 advantage over Seattle into the 85th minute. The Timbers were about to settle into their winning ways and do so with another, their third straight, win over Seattle. Then Clint Dempsey happened. Us Sounders fans enjoyed some schadenfreude as we used that dramatic draw to ignite a hellacious run, winning 10 of our next 13 games. We looked down the standings to see our rivals wallowing amongst the cellar dwellers. The Timbers didn’t win for another month and only have four victories on the season. As the Sounders continued cementing their place atop the league table, Portland continued to unravel.
Then Cascadia week happened. We knocked Portland out of the US Open Cup, almost guaranteeing they won’t win any silverware this season. Then we followed that up with Sunday night’s 2-nil drubbing. Now some Oregonians are rumbling about firing Caleb Porter. He isn’t even 12 months removed from being a visionary and a savior. I know I talked up how good it is to have a quality opponent with strong personalities in this rivalry, but hell! If Portland fires Porter specifically for his failures against Seattle… that would almost be too sweet.
I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers. I want to grind them into the earth like a spent cigarette butt, I want them to miss the playoffs and I want Seattle to deliver the killing blow. I want Portland to finish at the bottom of the table for a generation. I want anyone who wears the wrong color green to rue the day they fell in love with Portland.
Seattle-Portland is passion. You can’t market research that or replicate it (sorry New York-D.C.), and that is why MLS has embraced us. Soccer is played with the heart and Cascadia is American soccer.